PHOTO: Dr. Timothy Thomas in his Brentwood office. / Photo by Rachael Long
By RACHAEL LONG
A familiar face in Brentwood hung up his dentist’s coat this week for retirement.
Timothy Thomas spent the last 42 years practicing dentistry in Brentwood. Since 1985, he has practiced in the same location at 5120 Virginia Way.
He saw patients until Thursday of this week, all the while preparing his predecessor Haley Schmitt for the transition.
Before moving to Brentwood to take over the practice, Schmitt practiced dentistry in Tallahassee. Her father-in-law, Thomas said, is a dentist in Clarksville, Tennessee.
“She’s just a really sharp young lady that kinda has the same values,” Thomas said. “I think they’re going to carry on like I did, being interested in taking care of the patients.”
A Kansas-City native, Thomas moved to Brentwood in 1966. He remembers the city as a very different place when he first opened his practice.
“It was a little rural community back then,” Thomas said. “We lived in Brentwood Hills off of West Concord Road. We could look down on Brenthaven towards Lipscomb Schools and there were like four houses on Lipscomb Drive. There was nothing there.”
He said his office on Virginia Way was a dead end when he moved in.
“We just had fields and trees back behind here. Virginia Way was not even in existence,” Thomas said. “It was a very rural-type community.”
As the city has grown, so too has Thomas’s practice. Over 42 years, Thomas laughed at the thought of being able to estimate the number of patients he had treated.
“We’ve probably got over 2,000 active patients right now,” Thomas said. “Over 42 years…I couldn’t even hazard a guess at that.”
Though he looks forward to his days of retirement, Thomas says he will miss seeing the many patients he has come to know over the years.
“Dentistry is a little different than other parts of medicine,” Thomas said. “We see people twice a year, and we see their families…You form some pretty tight bonds with people that you see so often over so many years.”
One such patient is Heather Gee-Thomas, who has seen Thomas for her dental care for as long as she can remember.
Gee-Thomas’s mother was a teacher at Scales Elementary School, where she eventually taught Thomas’s son Ryan.
“His child is…every bit as kind and wonderful as he is,” Heather said.
Ryan F. Thomas is a dental surgeon at Nashville Oral Surgery in Cool Springs. Thomas said sharing the field with one of his sons has been a rewarding part of his practice.
All five sons, he said, graduated from the University of Tennessee’s engineering program. Besides Ryan, the other four earned degrees in mechanical engineering.
While only one son followed him into the practice, dentistry really became a family affair. His wife Lorrie worked as administrative support and their standard-poodle Magic spent time in the office, greeting patients.
So when Gee-Thomas recently went in for an appointment, she didn’t realize it would be the last time she would see her long-time dentist. She also didn’t realize how much it would mean to her.
“When I went in there the last day, I didn’t expect to be as emotional about it, but it just sort of hit me that that was one of the things in my life that was the same for however many years and how important a part of my life he was, even though I really didn’t know him that well,” she said.
It can be said that many people don’t enjoy trips to the dentist. But Thomas said it was always his main job to make sure his patients’ visits were comfortable.
“Hopefully when they leave here, they’re saying to us or themselves, too, ‘Well, that was a lot easier than I thought,’” Thomas said.
That was always true for Gee-Thomas.
“He was kind in every way, he was humble, he was gentle,” she said. “I never feared going to the dentist, it was always a pleasant experience, and the reason is him.”
Thomas says retirement is a mixed bag.
“In some ways, it feels good,” Thomas said. “I haven’t had a weekend that I’ve been in Brentwood for 42 years that I wasn’t on call and responsible if somebody needed something.”
For now, the only thing on Thomas’s calendar is his fourth son’s wedding in July.
“Other than that, I’m kind of wide open to whatever I want to do,” Thomas said. “I’ve had so many patients tell me that once you retire, everyday is Saturday. I’m kinda looking forward to that.”