— By CHRISTIN COYNE
After 46 years of treating the general dentistry needs of Weatherford, Dr. Paul Phillips saw his last patient Tuesday afternoon.
When Phillips arrived in Weatherford in 1967, a farmer and dairyman turned dentist, there were just four other active working dentists in town, he said.
There was no interstate highway running through town at the time and the county’s total population was under 34,000.
Of those four other dentists, only one is still in business, Phillips said.
Phillips said he is retiring because he has the opportunity.
His practice in the small office tucked in a shaded corner of East Rentz Street will be taken over by Dr. Guy Walker, who worked as a dentist in Weatherford before practicing dentistry in Missouri for many years, according to Phillips.
“I’m 86 years old,” Phillips said. “I guess it’s about time, anyway.”
“We used to have a joke around here: He’ll drop dead with a drill in his hand,” Annette Lamb said, who has worked for Phillips for most of the last 40 years and currently staffs the front desk.
There has been little turnover in Phillips’ office over the years, according to Lamb.
Many of Phillips’ patients have been coming to see him for decades, she said.
“He’s a very honest and giving person,” Lamb said, adding that Phillips’ helps the underdog.
Lamb also noted Phillips’ commitment to the community, including serving nearly a decade on the city’s planning and zoning commission in the 1970s, 30 years on the municipal utility board, three five-year terms on the regional water planning board beginning in 1990 and as a member of Rotary since 1967.
“He’s just a good person,” Lamb said. “You may not like what he tells you but he’s telling you the truth.”
Phillips, who had a busy day seeing patients Tuesday, also got an impromptu visit from a former employee who, after about 18 years working for Phillips and moving to Houston a couple of years ago, decided to make the drive to Weatherford for his last day.
A native of the small Panhandle town of Hale Center, Phillips said he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Texas Tech and spent 14 years in farming and dairy before heading to school again to learn dentistry.
“I decided there was a better way to make a living,” Phillips said with a laugh, adding that he didn’t have to get up at 4 a.m. to milk cows.
After school, Phillips said he located in Weatherford, where he saw economic promise and few others offering the same services in the town.
Phillips said he enjoys the flow and interaction with patients, some, such as one man he saw before he opened the business and came in again during Phillips’ last week, who have been with him for decades, while others might only visit once.
While he does like the accomplishment of doing something for them, it’s mostly the patients he enjoys, Phillips said.
The changes in general dentistry over the years have been an evolutionary process rather than a revolutionary process, Phillips said.
The restorative process of dentistry has become more aesthetic over the years, he said, noting that composite resins were a new thing when he started.
In the beginning, acrylics used for fillings would expand and shrink with the temperature of what someone might eat, Phillips said. Others types might dissolve over time depending on the pH level of a person’s saliva.
Dentistry instruments have improved somewhat, as well, Phillips said.
Implant dentistry has also come a long way in the last 20 years, according to Phillips, who said 40 years ago dentists did some implants but they were experimental and were not very successful, unlike now.
In 2000, a fire destroyed much of the office building but, like a surviving stained glass window made by one of Phillips’ patients on display in the waiting room, they pulled through.
The small-town atmosphere has changed a lot in nearly 50 years.
Within a year or two of moving to town, Phillips said he could go downtown and know half the people he met on the sidewalk. Now, he would be lucky to see someone he knows, Phillips said.
Phillips said he and his wife have a son who is a surgeon in Bakersfield, Calif., a daughter who works in the music department of an small liberal arts university in upstate New York and another daughter who is an attorney in Austin. He has five grandchildren, as well.
The couple has no plans to move from Weatherford, Phillips said.
“I’m very happy to find someone to fit in with the community,” Phillips said of his replacement.