Memorable Manitobans: John W. “Jack” Neilson (1918-2005)
Dental surgeon, academic administrator.
Born at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on 13 February 1918 to Dean and Hattie Neilson, he pursued dental training at the University of Alberta and graduated as a Doctor of Dental Surgery in 1941. He enlisted in the Canadian Dental Corps and served overseas in the Second World War from 1942-1945. On his return, he obtained a Masters degree in Periodontology from the University of Michigan. In 1947, he married Elizabeth Verna “Beth” Sovereign (1918-2010), with whom he went on to have three children.
He first pursued a career in dental education and dental practice as a faculty member of the Dental School at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, then joined the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1953. In 1957, he was recruited by the University of Manitoba to be the first Dean of its newly established Faculty of Dentistry at Winnipeg. He held that position for 20 years, overseeing the construction and operation of the dental school, which is referred to by his early students as “the house that Jack built.” After stepping down as Dean, he remained on the faculty until his retirement in 1983.
His career in dentistry was recognized both nationally and internationally in various offices he held and awards he received. While he felt honoured by these, he was most gratified by the lasting friendships he formed with his students and dental colleagues across the country. His compassion for others was reflected in his commitment to community service. In Winnipeg, he continued his long association with the Rotary Club, serving as President in 1970-1971. He was a Director of the Children’s Aid Society, Knowles School for Boys, and Meals on Wheels. He also held membership in the St. Charles Country Club and Winnipeg Winter Club.
On retirement, he and his wife moved to Vernon, British Columbia. There, he continued serving his community as a Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, and as a member of the boards of the United Way, the Okanagan Symphony, and the Vernon and District Home Support Society. He was also a member of the Vernon Golf Club and the Vernon Curling Club. The Rotary Club remained the main focus of his community life and he was a member for 58 years.
He died at Vernon on 25 February 2005.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 2 March 2005.
Obituary [Elizabeth Nielson], Vernon Morning Star, 6 June 2010
This page was prepared by Lois Braun.
Page revised: 31 May 2022