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UTHealth School of Dentistry Mourns Passing Of B.J. Westbook DDS Class Of 1954

Dr. Billy Joe 'B.J.' Westbrook

HOUSTON, Texas — Funeral services are pending for UTHealth School of Dentistry alumnus and benefactor Billy Joe “B.J.” Westbrook, DDS, of Houston, who died early this morning (Tuesday, February 13) at age 91.

“Dr. Westbrook was truly good man — a credit to our school and to the profession,” said Dean John Valenza, DDS. “We often talk about making a difference, but that’s what he was all about when it came to his school.”

Although Westbrook made several major gifts to the school — including a $1 million donation in 2008 toward construction of a new dental school — he avoided recognition for himself. Instead, he requested memorials for former Dean Frederick C. Elliott, DDS and two favorite professors, Sumter Arnim, DDS, PhD, and Danny D’Anton, DDS.

In honor of his most recent gift, the School of Dentistry designated Room 4320 as “The Westbrook Classroom” and created honorary panels for Arnim and D’Anton, revealing them at an alumni reception.

In 2017, the school managed to surprise Westbrook by creating “The Westbrook Distinguished Alumnus Award for Philanthropy” and designating him as the first recipient. He received the award at a regular meeting of the UTSD Development Advisory Council he served as a volunteer.

In a 2008 interview, Westbrook said he grew up in Electra, Texas near Wichita Falls during the Depression and worked from the time he was 12. After graduating from high school in 1944, he was drafted into the Army infantry and was traveling to the Philippines when the atomic bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered. Suddenly, the Army had different needs, and he was assigned to drive an ambulance. “That’s how I got into the medical end of things,” he recalled.

After the war, Westbrook used his GI Bill benefits to attend The University of Texas at Austin for two years, transferring to Midwestern University in Wichita Falls to marry Rosalie Graves. He graduated in 1950 with a degree in chemistry, and the couple moved to Houston for dental school.

To make ends meet, they both had jobs. He drove a city bus before and after classes. In the summer, he worked at local oil refineries and for West Texas oil companies.

During his senior year of dental school, Westbrook enlisted in the Air Force. His Army service had lasted 23 months and 19 days — 11 days short of the 24 months that would have made him immune to recall. “I volunteered because I didn’t want to start a practice and have to leave,” he said, “but it was a lot more fun to go in as an Air Force officer.”

The Korean War was underway, but Westbrook served out his enlistment in Tucson, Ariz., before coming home to open a practice in the North Shore area of Houston. He retired in 1995, working occasionally for the dental company that bought his practice. He and Rosalie raised three daughters before her death in 2007 after a lengthy illness.

When he decided to make his $1 million donation to the School of Dentistry, Westbrook said he wanted to give something back to the school where he learned his profession.

“It’s a way of saying thanks for giving me the excellent dental education that made it possible for a boy like me, who grew up in a family of very modest means, to eventually be able to make a significant monetary contribution in return,” he said.

“It’s not that I made a whole lot of money in dentistry,” he added. “But it gave me status in the community and put me in a position to know people who were astute in business, and it was possible for me to make some very good investments.”

Over the years, Westbrook was active in a variety of civic activities. He was a charter member of the North Shore Rotary Club, a past president of the North Channel Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Greater Houston Dental Society.

He was the first in his family to go to college, and he credited the GI Bill for making it possible. Without it, “I would probably have worked the rest of my life in the oil fields,” he said.

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