After half a century, Dr. Bobby Lomax still sees patients
SALISBURY — As he marks his 50th year as a Salisbury dentist, Dr. Bobby Lomax still has a way with patients.
“I’ve just always had a good feeling, being in his hands,” says Ronald Moose, who went to Lomax for more than four decades. “He just made you feel comfortable, which is not easy.”
Monday morning, Lomax fixed a partial plate for Bill Cline, who said he broke it in half biting down on a piece of chicken.
“He’s a marvel with dentures,” says Cline, a patient for some 30 years. “... I tell you, he can do wonders.”
Almost 50 years ago to the day, Lomax opened his first office in Salisbury, in the Weaver building across from College Barbecue.
Lomax will turn 84 next week and though he sold his well-established practice to Dr. Don Fortner 19 years ago, he still sees a patient or two a week, at their request, just because they’ve trusted him for so long.
“Sometimes patients get used to you, and they want to see you — no matter what,” Lomax says.
Fortner provides him a chair, as he needs it. When Fortner was taking over Lomax’s patients years ago, “he was there every step of the way, making sure it went the best that it could,” an appreciative Fortner says.
“In 20 years, we’ve never had a disagreement, which is kind of unheard of.”
Lomax still works with steady hands, which also proved to be an asset in his woodworking days. He deals with partial deafness, much of which he attributes to decades working with the high-pitched drills of his profession.
“You can get through to him,” Cline says.
Lomax grew up in Churchland, where he graduated high school in 1948.
His father, William, was a peach farmer, grocer and, in his later years, a rural mail carrier. For a considerable time, he also was a Davidson County commissioner.
As a boy, Bobby Lomax hunted rabbits and squirrels around Churchland, fished on the river and spent considerable time exploring Boone’s Cave. His father worked the concession stand at the park.
Bobby Lomax served a stint in the U.S. Army after high school, and much of that time was with the Signal Corps in Frankfurt, Germany.
After the Army, he enrolled in pre-medical studies at Catawba College, where he majored in biology and chemistry. Always, his long-range goal was dentistry, and older brother Dr. Donald Lomax, a longtime family physician in Salisbury, provided some of the inspiration.
Bobby Lomax graduated from Catawba College in 1956 and went to work on gaining his dentistry degree from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond.
Lomax met his future wife, Betty Stansbury, when both held down summer jobs at the Richmond school. Betty Lomax remembers she was working with two guys named Bob and one called Chuck when one of the Bobs — Lomax, as it turned out — called her for a date.
“And I didn’t know which Bob it was,” she confesses.
Her mother, assistant director of personnel, did the equivalent of a background check on both Bobs through her contacts in the human resources department and reported back to Betty that they had good reputations.
The couple married in 1959. Within a year, Bobby Lomax was working as a dentist at the VA Medical Center in Salisbury under the tutelage of Dr. Nelson Large, chief of dental services.
The Lomaxes lived in a tiny flat near the gate of the VA hospital. Betty would chide Bobby sometimes for getting a ride home with Large when he could have easily walked.
Meanwhile, Betty, who had taught 12 years in public schools in Richmond, visited Catawba College one day looking for work. Dr. Alvin Robert Keppel at first offered her a secretarial job, for which she was overqualified, but soon directed her to Earl Ruth in the physical education office.
Betty became assistant professor of physical education for the next 17 years and, in 1992, Bobby established a scholarship in her honor at Catawba. There also is a Lomax Athletic Award going to the top senior woman athlete at Catawba every year.
For three years, the Lomaxes were able to live in a faculty apartment on campus for $70 a month. “We sure did like it,” Betty says, recalling the beautifully decorated campus Christmas tree that stood just outside their window.
Getting his start
In January 1962, Bobby Lomax opened his own practice in the Weaver building, with Dr. Norman Sloop in an office nearby. Lomax had to build his patient list from scratch.
“It was scary financially,” Betty says. “It was tough at first.”
That first office had two chairs and four rooms. Lomax did everything with the help of Teeny (Mrs. Bill) Davis, who served as both receptionist and chair-side assistant.
Betty sent students and faculty from Catawba College to her husband. It helped, too, that he was next to Sloop’s office, which saw considerable traffic.
Lomax also gained a reputation for always being available in an emergency, no matter the time or day.
Lomax laughs remembering how he hurried to the office one Sunday morning and was careless pulling into his spot. He punctured a tire on the steps.
Chuck Taylor, his patient, offered to pay for a new tire, which Lomax refused. “Anybody who’d do that should buy his own tire,” Lomax says of his driving skills that morning.
Patients soon realized how caring and compassionate their new dentist was. He would sometimes carry youngsters in his arms back to the chair and entertain them by moving the chair up and down.
Moose was about 4 years old and living in Rockwell when his mother decided to drive him to Salisbury so he could see Lomax. Moose liked the dentist’s calm demeanor and ready smile.
“It clicked,” Moose says, “and I was relaxed in his office and relaxed with him.”
Lomax remembers asking a little girl one day if she was brushing her teeth regularly at home.
The girl said she was, adding that she was brushing her dog’s teeth, too.
Was she using her tooth brush on the dog, Lomax asked.
“No, I use my sister’s,” she said.
Lomax put in long days, often having patients in the chair before 8 a.m. Betty knew that most nights he wasn’t coming home for dinner until 6:30 or later. He also worked until 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
“He would see you anytime,” Betty says.
In 1972, Lomax joined three other partners in constructing a two-story professional building at 2440 Statesville Blvd. At its biggest, Lomax’s own operation included himself, two assistants, two hygienists and a secretary.
He would continue practice at the new location for 20 more years until selling to Fortner at “retirement.”
But Lomax agreed to work full-time with Fortner for a couple more years, before reducing his hours to half-days, then by request.
“I told Dr. Fortner I’d like to stay a year or two,” Lomax laughs.
Fortner (and Lomax) moved to the Manning Park office complex off Jake Alexander Boulevard in 2008, expanding from 1,300 to 3,500 square feet. Lomax, who always kept abreast of the new technology in dentistry, loves the modern work space Fortner now has.
Lomax follows his routines. In the mornings he rounds up his dog Jack and they swing by the dental office to say hello.
Then he might visit with friends such as Pat Spencer, Julian Krider and Bob Wilson. Krider, an accomplished woodworker, is 97, and Lomax likes to check on him regularly.
In earlier days, Lomax was an avid pilot and bought a small plane with his late friend, Louis Boyd. He also enjoys golf in retirement, and every Friday he’s part of a standing foursome.
Most every day, Lomax eats at College Barbecue, a leftover habit from the days when his office was nearby. He usually orders the chicken filet or a foot-long hot dog.
Above all, Betty says, her husband is devoted to First Presbyterian Church.
“His life is his religion,” she says. “I just know it means everything to him.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.