Ahead in Imaging

The British Society of Dental and Maxillofacial Radiology

Ahead in Imaging

The British Society of Dental and Maxillofacial Radiology

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 Laetitia Brocklebank
 1952 -2020




 By now, all of us will have heard of the unexpected death of our colleague and friend Laetitia Brocklebank.  Laetitia had worked at Glasgow Dental Hospital and School for almost 30 years and made many contributions to the radiology specialty and to teaching.  She “officially” retired from her post as a Senior Clinical Lecturer/Honorary Consultant in Oral Radiology in 2015, only to return about 10 months later on a part-time basis. This continued until July 2020, when she was appointed as Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow.   Her untimely passing brings great sadness and there have been hundreds of messages of condolences sent to the University and the Dental Hospital from friends of Laetitia in all parts of the world.

Laetitia Mary Finlay was born in the spring of 1952 in Beckenham, Kent, the daughter of John Alexander Robertson Finlay and Jane Little Finlay (née Hepburn), both of whom were Scottish by birth and ancestry. Laetitia had an older sister, Amanda, and later she acquired a brother Fabian.  Her parents were strong role models for Laetitia’s life and career. Her father was in the legal profession and rose to be a High Court Judge. Her mother was also a high achiever, eventually becoming Vice-Chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission and being awarded a CBE. At 18 years of age, Laetitia became an undergraduate dental student at Guy’s Hospital, London. Her choice of career was perhaps inspired by an Uncle, who was a Consultant and teacher at Guy’s. He had been her family’s next-door neighbour during her childhood.  During her undergraduate years, she and her brother were able to stay in their father’s small flat in the Old Buildings of Lincoln’s Inn, from where Laetitia could cycle to Guy’s Hospital each day.  

Laetitia graduated BDS (University of London) in 1975, but after two years she was attracted to undertake postgraduate studies in Dental Radiology.  When, in the 1970s, Professor David Smith took over the Department of Dental Radiology at Kings College Hospital, one of his early projects was to set up a Master’s degree. His aim was to find and train dentally qualified people to supply the needs of Dental Radiology departments wherever in the world they would be required. Laetitia Finlay is remembered as a delightful, intelligent and highly motivated postgraduate student under the tutelage of David Smith, Brian O’Riordan and Malcolm Bishop. She graduated with her MSc in 1978.   

In the summer of that year, shortly after her MSc exams, Laetitia decided she wanted to buy a motorbike. It was while looking for insurance for her motorbike that she met her future husband Malcolm Brocklebank, who was then working for a brokerage. Having sorted out the insurance, and at the same time enchanted Malcolm, she embarked on her motorbike for the first time on the busy London streets. Within minutes she collided with a car that had turned across her path; she went over the handle bars of the bike and landed in the road. The motorbike was written off and Laetitia was fortunate to escape without serious injury, but her successful insurance claim meant further contact with Malcolm and, in due course, a relationship developed. This eventually led to the purchase of a flat together in Woolwich and, in due course, marriage in July 1980.

After her Master’s degree, Laetitia did some teaching at Guy’s and clinical work at Greenwich Hospital, but was hoping to find a substantive position.  Fortuitously, at this time a new Dental School had opened in Hong Kong and a Head of the Radiology department was being sought.  Despite an initial reluctance to apply, Laetitia was encouraged by Malcolm and by Prof. David Smith to do so, resulting in her being offered the post, which she took up in 1981. 

Although impressed by her new department at the Prince Philip Dental Hospital in Hong Kong, Laetitia initially faced some discrimination as a female member of staff, being allocated inferior accommodation on the assumption that the “husband’s job” would provide something better. When her husband needed healthcare, Laetitia called the University Health Service. The on-call Doctor duly arrived and, bending over her husband’s prostrate figure on the couch, said the immortal words, “Doctor Brocklebank how are you?” Where upon Laetitia said “I’m fine; it’s my husband I am concerned about!”, whereupon the doctor declined to provide care because she was a female member of staff. In such cases of discrimination, Laetitia did not passively accept the situation but worked actively to change attitudes to how female employees were treated.  

During her time in Hong Kong, Laetitia became involved in forensic dentistry, co-developing an identification method based on superimposition of a radiograph of the skull of an unknown person over a photograph of the possible match. She worked with the Hong Kong police on identification of bodies, including in several murder cases.  In her spare time, Laetitia and Malcolm enjoyed sailing their 28-foot wooden sloop, “Arawa”, taking part in regular race events, and she became the first female member of the exclusive Aberdeen Boat Club. 

In 1984, while working in Hong Kong, Laetitia was successful in passing the examination for the Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons (FRACDS) a qualification seen as essential for consultant-level status.  It was also during her time in Hong Kong that the Diploma of Dental Radiology (DDR, as it was called then) of the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) was established, along with the training programmes that went with it. It must have been a challenge for Laetitia to obtain this qualification while working abroad, but the recognition of the University of London MSc by the RCR as appropriate training for Part 1 of the DDR examination was a great help, allowing her to sit and pass that examination in 1985. She went on to obtain the DDR in 1988

Although she had enjoyed her position in Hong Kong, Laetitia moved to Scotland in 1989, taking up a post at the Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School. These were challenging times for dentistry in Scotland when a decision was made to close one of the three Dental Schools. After much debate it was decided that Edinburgh Dental School would close.  Although she continued to live in Edinburgh at 4 Eaton Place, she moved to the University of Glasgow as Clinical Senior Lecturer in Oral Radiology.  Her time in Glasgow is recalled by past students with affection for her distinctive style of teaching and as a mentor. Few will forget her teaching parallax using the items from her kitchen cupboard!  In 1997, Oxford University Press published her textbook “Dental Radiology. Understanding the Dental Image”. She also produced a steady output of journal papers, focusing on clinical aspects of radiology. She developed a clinical service at Glasgow in videofluoroscopy, and her most highly cited publication (1998) reported a study of straw and cup drinking on dental erosion using this imaging technique.

Laetitia was a consistent contributor to BSDMFR, making her first presentation on the history of cephalometry, part of her MSc dissertation, at the Society’s Autumn meeting in 1978. After her return from Hong Kong, she returned to being a regular attendee at meetings and an active member, presenting numerous clinical case reports and other presentations. None of us who were peers of Laetitia will forget her clear voice and measured style of lecturing. Her service to the Society was recognised when she served a term as President from 1997-99.  She was an enthusiastic attendee of IADMFR meetings and was successful in submitting a bid to host the ICDMFR Congress of 2001 in Glasgow, coinciding with the term of office of Douglas Lovelock as President of the Association. She was very proud of this achievement.  Those of us involved in the preparation for that Congress will remember the meticulous care which Laetitia showed in selecting venues so that a successful outcome could be ensured.  She was an enthusiastic supporter of the development of a new European Academy of Dentomaxillofacial Radiology (EADMFR) in the early 2000s.  Around the same time, Laetitia developed a new relationship with her partner, Professor Paul van der Stelt.  She spent time in the Netherlands with him and made great efforts to learn some Dutch.  They travelled widely together, both for pleasure and as part of their mutual involvement in EADMFR. They were both founding committee members of the fledgeling organisation; Laetitia became Treasurer and Paul became Secretary, lending their considerable professional experience to the establishment and success of the new Academy. Their contributions were recognised by both being granted Honorary Membership of EADMFR.  We will miss seeing them together at future congresses and the chance to share some time with them. Our deepest condolences go to Paul.

Laetitia was awarded FDS from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1993, but it will be for her support of the Royal Odonto-Chirurgical Society of Scotland that many Scottish dentists will remember her. She rarely missed a meeting from joining in 1990. Laetitia was a Council Member 1992-95, Vice-President 2001-2003, President 2003-2004 and Secretary 2004-2008.  Her support for Dental and Maxillofacial Radiology in Scotland was second to none and she became the first trainer in the specialty in Scotland in 1991. All the current consultants in Scotland, and others, benefitted from her dedication as a trainer over the years and we will miss her greatly as a friend and colleague.

Laetitia was well known in Edinburgh for organising musical evenings with fine dining and wines.  One other achievement that she was fond of telling people about was the fact that she was on the final flight that Concorde made before being taken out of service.  Concerning slower means of transport, Laetitia was a keen cyclist, having purchased an electric bike a few years ago. She had taken part in multiple long-distance challenges with "The Pedalling Profs" from Glasgow and Newcastle Dental Schools and, more recently, raised funds for Retina UK by taking part in their Tandem Cycle Challenge.

While her professional contributions have been invaluable to the specialty of Dental and Maxillofacial Radiology, it is her personal qualities that we remember with special fondness.  On both professional and personal levels, Laetitia was a mentor for numerous staff and students in Glasgow and throughout Scotland. Her passion for the specialty inspired many dentists whom she successfully trained to become radiologists. Her kindness and friendliness to others was exceptional. Socially, she breathed charisma into a room at our DMFR gatherings at home and abroad. She leaves many happy memories behind. We will all miss her vivacity and good humour.


From Keith Horner, incorporating valuable contributions from Malcolm Bishop, Malcolm Brocklebank, Jackie Brown, Elizabeth Connor, Peter Hirschmann, Douglas Lovelock, Brian O’Riordan and John Rout.