Answering the call to help a child has always been Dr. George Richard “Dick” Rankin’s top priority. That was true first in the educational field, and then for the past 44 years in his dental practice. And now, Rankin has announced that he plans to retire.
Rankin started out by teaching history and math at the middle and high school levels as well as coaching football and track prior to going to dental school at Chapel Hill. Because of his enjoyment for kids, he decided that if he was going to be providing dental care, it just “seemed to be a natural pathway” to work with children.
When one first walks into Rankin’s dental practice, you can tell it was designed to be a place for children. Their second location, which is located on Hartness Road, looks more like a house, which was intentional.
“We built this. We actually built it to look like this,” said Rankin. “We wanted it to be warmer than the traditional office.”
The first office was on Stockton Street, and the practice has been at its current location since 1983. And since Rankin opened his practice, it was estimated that thousands of patients have walked through those doors and he’s even now treating second and third generations of his original patients.
Working alongside Rankin from day one has been his office manager, Althea Moore, who they shared with a laugh that when she went for her interview, she met him at his home. She was greeted by his dog — that in turn bit her, they both said. Moore then said with a big smile, “that’s when my mom said, ‘you know you will get the job, the dog bit you.’”
Rankin and Moore started working the very same day — Aug. 23, 1976 — and she has been there each step of the way in the practice. She shared that his
retirement will be a big adjustment, but she will continue “as long as I am still working with children, which is really what I wanted to do.”
Currently, they are seeing approximately 40 children a day, Rankin and Moore calculated and are traditionally in the office three to four days a week and then one day a week he works in the hospital.
“There are a lot of early childhood cavities that stem from poor diet and poor oral hygiene,” Rankin said. “We see kids that are 2 and 3 years old and sometimes under 2 years old, and those kids have to be treated in the hospital under general anesthesia.”
For this treatment, Rankin uses both Iredell Memorial and Davis Regional Medical Center.
“We were the first people to utilize the hospital setting. And both have been very, very accommodating to us. Both went out of their way to make us feel welcome and very comfortable,” Rankin shared.
He does know of others that are now using the hospital in a similar setting in Statesville.
Wherever they are working with their patients, both Rankin and Moore stressed the importance of making the child their priority and establishing a good relationship with both patient and parents.
“The thing that we see is that in many cases we are referred patients who have had dental work attempted somewhere else and have had a very negative experience,” Rankin said. “So any time that we have had those kids, winning them over, treating them successfully, removing that fear” is their priority.
“Changing their whole experience is so rewarding,” Moore noted.
And this is exactly what Rankin said he wants to pass along to Dr. Stuart Tucker, who will be taking over the practice and also to any others who are just starting out in pediatric dentistry.
Tucker is completing his residency at Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, and will begin seeing patients in the Statesville office in mid-July.
It was Moore who passed along Rankin’s motto for treating his families as she shared, “I think he would say, ‘the most important (thing) is to treat the children like you would treat your own. It’s more about the quality of the care than the quantity of the care.’”
“Don’t worry about how much dentistry you can do,” Rankin said he wants to pass along. “Worry about establishing a good relationship with the kids as well as the parents.”
“That’s what he’s always been about,” Moore continued, “and that’s why I’ve been here for 44 years.”
Dr. Rankin’s practice isn’t just a job but he loves these kids, and “he has a relationship with all these kids. He calls them by their first names. He talks to them. He relates to them,” Moore said.
The feeling is mutual as the kids run up to Rankin when they see him out and about, said Moore, and they hug him and yell out ‘hey Dr. Rankin!’”
Former patients also drop by the office just to say hey, Moore noted. In fact, she recalled a story about one day when Rankin was at the hospital working and this massive motor home pulled into the parking lot.
“This girl gets out, walks across the parking lot, comes inside and just grins at all of us and says hello.” This was one of their former patients who travels all over the state and told them that the first time she got close to Statesville was going to go see Rankin.
Rankin shared that he will be working with Tucker through December introducing him to the patients and families and helping to ease their transition as well as stepping in to help when Tucker needs to be away.
A young 75 years of age, Rankin has decided that he will be retiring and while he doesn’t have all the future plans figured out yet, he and his wife Kathi do plan on spending more time with the family, especially noting the grandchildren that he wants to visit.
The Rankins have a daughter, Alystyre, of New York; two sons, Colby and his wife Staphanie and their children, Elizabeth and Harrison and son Dyllan and wife Anna and children, GeorgeAnna and one on the way, all of Charleston, S.C.
When Rankin first graduated from dental school and began his practice he noted “it was just trying to find your way. You think you know what you’re doing, but you really don’t until you get out and do it. It’s just trying to find the comfort zone that we have with our patients and their parents.”
He is now starting a new chapter in his life and with that new beginning there are new challenges to face.
What are these? After thinking a few minutes, he said “you know I think that the hardest thing is changing your identity. (For example) if you are the postman for 40 years, and then you stop, everybody knows you as the postman, and you are, in your own mind, you know yourself professionally at least, as the postman. So, that will be the biggest challenge, changing your identity and being okay with it and not allowing that to depress you or concern you.”
That change will affect all of the office family, which is how Moore sees the group that has worked together for many years and been there for one another through deaths in the family, marriages, births and more.
“It’s hard to put into words” said Moore of what the change will look like.
In addition to Rankin and Moore with their 44 years each, the practice has had some long-term employees including Cindy Cochran, who just retired after 31 years, Kathy Trexler, 27; Marsh Gray, 22; Amy Dalton, 18; Lesley Colvert, 16; Dustin Clarke, 14; Katie Agate, 6; and the newest addition, Gina Wilmoth, seven months.
Rankin has made children the top priority and that is evident by his being there, no matter what the hour might be, to make sure they are taken care of.
“I think you always had your priorities in order, being kind to the patients, being gentle with the patients, I think you had that from the get go,” she said.
And this gentleness and care of his patients is what Moore said she would like others to witness first-hand, especially the parents.
“I just wish people could watch Dr. Rankin through a two-way mirror and watch him work with their children, watch the tenderness, and compassion, and how gentle he is,” she said. “If they could watch that through a two-way mirror, they would be amazed.”
Parents don’t go back with the children; they only witness a big smile when the child comes out and hear how great they did from the staff.
Being a parent herself, Moore said that if she knew her child was being treated with such tenderness, “it would something I would never forget. And I would always respect that. It’s easy to work for somebody that has your respect and admiration like that. And Dr. Rankin loves the kids. It makes a big difference.”
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