Founding Director, Robert E. Moyers

Robert E. Moyers, Founding Director

Robert Edison Moyers was born on November 12, 1919 in Sydney, Iowa, where he spent his childhood and most of his adolescence. Shortly after graduating from high school in 1937, Bob went to Iowa City where he worked to earn enough money to begin his university education that fall.  At age 17, Bob attended the State University of Iowa, entering the College of Liberal Arts where he was enrolled in the honors English program. Bob also was a member of the University Players (he always had a flair for the theatrical).

During his undergraduate years, Bob served as student pastor at a small church outside of Iowa City earning the nickname “Deacon.” Because of his success as a preacher, he continued to serve as pastor until he finished dental school at Iowa, graduating in December 1942 at which time he began his military career. As one of a group of five soldiers, Bob parachuted into Greece on the second anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the first Americans to do so. There Major Moyers served as the senior allied medical liaison officer to the Greek resistance movement. Major Moyers was discharged in early September, 1945, leaving the Army with the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, the Purple Heart (he was wounded twice), the Order of the British Empire, and the Order of Phoenix (Greek). Bob was the most highly decorated dental officer to serve in World War II.

In late September 1945, Bob returned to Iowa City to begin his graduate work in orthodontics. He received his Master’s degree in 1947 and a Ph.D. in neuromuscular physiology in 1949. While at Iowa, Bob became a pioneer in electromyography; he was one of the first individuals to monitor electrical activity in the masticatory and facial muscles. His doctoral thesis earned him what is now known as the Milo Hellmann Research Award, the highest research award given by the American Association of Orthodontists.

After completing his Ph.D. research, Bob was appointed chair of the Orthodontic Department at the University of Toronto in 1949. While at Toronto, he established two research centers: the Burlington Orthodontic Research Center and the Craniofacial Anomalies Clinic at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Both of these research centers are still active today.

After the sudden death of Dr. George Moore at the University of Michigan, Bob was asked to assume the chairmanship of the Orthodontic Department at the University of Michigan, a position he accepted in 1952. Early in his career in Ann Arbor, Bob became involved with the University of Michigan Elementary and Secondary School Growth Study, adding cephalometric and hand-wrist film data to the data gathered annually from the students in the University’s “laboratory school” located within the School of Education. This extensive database has served as a research source for many scholars at Michigan and for those who have come from around the world to study and conduct research at the University of Michigan.

In 1963, the University of Michigan began an initiative to establish an interdisciplinary research unit in human development on campus. Because Bob had taken his training at the Iowa Growth Center, the dean of the Dental School asked him to represent the School of Dentistry on this committee. Bob ultimately became the Founding Director of the Center for Human Growth and Development (CHGD) that was established by the Regents of the University of Michigan in 1964. CHGD initially recruited senior scholars, or Fellows, from a wide range of disciplines who developed interdisciplinary programs of research. This founding model influenced how CHGD functioned and continues to serve as a model to support interdisciplinary and collaborative re-search.

Bob served as director of CHGD until 1980, and continued to head the Craniofacial Biology Group at CHGD for another decade. In 1990, he retired and became Fellow Emeritus of CHGD and Professor Emeritus of Dentistry. He also retired from his private orthodontic practice, but he continued to be a productive researcher until his untimely and unanticipated death in 1996 at age 75.

Bob Moyers was one of the University’s most creative and innovative faculty members. His horizons were far broader than dentistry and orthodontics, as is indicated by his vision that led to the founding of CHGD and his leadership and coordination of the disparate research foci of the biologists and psychologists comprising the CHGD faculty. Through his pioneering efforts, CHGD gained international prominence for its interdisciplinary research in craniofacial biology, developmental psychology, developmental biology, nutrition and public health, morphometrics, anthropology and pediatrics.

Bob’s first love, however, was orthodontics, and his contributions to the specialty were immense. His doctoral investigations and subsequent clinical research provided a better under-standing of the role of the neuromusculature both in normal facial growth and during clinical treatment. His leadership of an NIH-funded program project in craniofacial growth and development led to a broader understanding of the form-function relationship in the craniofacial region. Bob also wrote an orthodontic textbook that was widely used throughout the world for many decades. Since 1966, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry honors Moyers’ contributions with a memorial lecture as part of the International Conference on Craniofacial Research.

by James A. McNamara, Jr.
CHGD Research Professor Emeritus
Thomas M. and Doris Graber Endowed Professor of Dentistry
and Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology