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Growing up I always heard children are supposed to be scared of the dentist. I guess for some bizarre reason I was the exception to the rule or maybe I just had a really good dentist.A few weeks …
Growing up I always heard children are supposed to be scared of the dentist. I guess for some bizarre reason I was the exception to the rule or maybe I just had a really good dentist.
A few weeks back, I had a broken tooth and was in a really bad way for a dentist. I figured I ought to give the guy across the street a try, Dr. Travis Russell.
When I walked into the office, I was flooded with memories of Travis’s grandfather, Dr. Harold Russell. The caring and compassion the elder Dr. Russell provided his patients set him apart from others. No matter what kind of a day he might have had, he always treated me with kindness. It is only fitting to add his feature to the Weekly 150.
Harold Lee Russell was born November 23, 1932, to Charles W. and Mary Freeman Russell. His father was a farmer and cattle trader. Born the second son, behind Charlie, he attended the McKenzie school system, graduating in 1950.
He spent six years serving in the Tennessee National Guard. Russell attended the University of Tennessee at Martin for two years before enrolling with the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry, graduating in 1956.
After graduation, Dr. Russell returned home to McKenzie to open his dental practice. Former banker, “Doc” Bell directed him to Dr. Howard Smith, who was practicing on Lee Street. Dr. Smith extended the invitation to Dr. Russell to join him. This stated a partnership and friendship that spanned decades.
In an article from the Banner archives Dr. Russell told his story about opening his practice: “My daddy wanted me to open an upstairs office over Covington Drug Store, but I told him I didn’t want to because older patients would have to climb those tall stairs every time they came to see me,” remembered Harold. He laughingly said his daddy replied, “Do whatever you think, you’re big enough.” He said “Doc” Bell directed him to Dr. Howard Smith, who operated a local optometry practice in a former grocery store building on Lee Street.
“Dr. Smith was only using a small portion of the building and said he would be glad to have me join him at his office,” said Dr. Russell. The doctors shared a business partnership and friendship that spanned decades. “We never had a disagreement in all those years,” said Harold.
In January 1960, the two doctors moved to Main Street. There was an old white duplex house located at the site, which they relocated to the back of the lot to make way for the new offices.
An older woman lived in the duplex at the time, and they told her she could live in the house as long was she wanted. As the business grew, they needed the space where the duplex was situated to build a parking lot, but they wouldn’t make her move because they had promised her she could stay. It was not until the lady died that the new parking lot was built.
In the archives it notes another story from Dr. Russell:
“In the early days, we (he and Ann Cozart) used to work on Saturdays and wouldn’t get through until midnight,” said Harold. “That’s because the farmers came to town on Saturday to get groceries and that’s when they wanted to get a tooth pulled.”
Over the years, situations changed and night doctoring was no longer required.
Dr. Russell had the ability to attract and retain great employees. Many of which were long serving employees, including Ann Cozart - 45 years, Lottie Choate, 43 years, and Norma Cooper, 35 years.
In 1970, Dr. Russell contracted hepatitis from eating raw oysters forcing him to step aside from the practice for six months. He said he couldn’t get out of bed without assistance for four months.
“If I had been a drinker, I’d be dead,” he said, remembering the extreme weakness the disease caused.
In 1990, Dr. Russell went home for lunch to find his wife, Fay had died suddenly.
They had two sons together, Marshall and Steve. Marshall and late wife, Cindy have a son, John, and Marshall and wife Robin have a daughter, Elizabeth. Steve and wife, Cherry have two sons, Lee and Travis.
In 1993, Dr. Russell found love again in the former Suzanne Heath, a retired educator.
Now, Dr. Russell’s grandson, Travis is a practicing dentist in the same location and Dr. Tom Smith and Dr. Mark Smith practice optometry on the side previously occupied by Dr. Howard Smith. Tom is the son and Mark, the grandson of Howard.
When Dr. Travis Russell opened his practice, Suzanne Russell, speaking for ailing Dr. Harold, said he “is so proud of Travis he can’t stand it.” The clinic still has the photograph of Dr. Harold dental school graduating class on display.
Dr. Harold Russell was always willing to “work in” a patient with immediate needs or “work out” payments for those who needed a little extra time paying. “McKenzie has been mighty good to me,” said Dr. Russell. “The people have been wonderful.”
Dr. Russell was a quiet contributor to his church and to nearly all local fundraising events. His benevolence had touched thousands of people both in the practice of dentistry and compassion for friends in need.
He was a member of First United Methodist Church, a Mason, selected Carroll County 2012 Business Person of the Year, a member of the American Dental Association, Tennessee Dental Association and a member of the 7th District Dental Society. He was selected as the 2012 Reader’s Choice as the best dentist in the 2012 contest conducted by The McKenzie Banner. He was also the grand marshal at the 2012 McKenzie Christmas Parade.
Dr. Russell was the true definition of a country doctor. All his patients are his friends. He was caring, committed and dedicated to his patients and he wanted everyone to be free of pain and have a good smile. These are a few reasons he enjoyed a career that spanned half a century.
Longtime McKenzie dentist Harold Lee Russell died Sunday, November 11, 2018. He as buried Mt. Olivet Cemetery in McKenzie.
A special thank you to Linda Bolton, our associate editor emeritus, for supplying much of the work for this story and conducting the interview with Dr. Russell in 2012.
Jason R. Martin
B.S. • M.A.Ed • MLS
Councilman, Ward II
Executive Chairman, McKenzie 150th Celebration
E: firstname.lastname@example.org P: 731.352.3323
Jason Martin is a life-long resident of McKenzie. He graduated from McKenzie High School in 2000; earned a Bachelor of Science in History from Bethel College in 2004; a Masters in Education from Bethel University in 2009 and a Masters in History and Humanities from Fort Hays State University in 2011.