Thursday, May 10, 2007
Cherished memories of Dr. Al Hale
This weekend Holly Springs said farewell to one of its great characters, Dr. Al Hale. Others will no doubt contribute their thoughts elsewhere in the pages of The South Reporter, so I will restrict myself to a few personal remembrances.
When I moved here in 1987, I knew of course that I would need to choose a dentist. All my years in Chicago I had paid return visits to our family dentist and close neighbor in my hometown of Cleveland, but by then Dr. Eley had retired, and so my visit to Dr. Hale was literally the first time I had placed myself in the care of another dental practitioner since I had my baby teeth.
Without disrespect to the other dentists of our community, as a new citizen of Holly Springs I chose Dr. Hale because of a connection through Betty Knight, then a member of our congregation, who was employed in his office.
I could tell that Betty respected and admired Dr. Hale, and since his office was located almost next door to our church, it was natural that I should turn to him. By the time that I arranged for my first dental checkup I had already been here for my first Pilgrimage and, of course, had toured “Grey Gables.” I will confess (and I did joke with Dr. Hale through the years about this), that after I went to Al’s office for my checkup, I waited rather anxiously for the bill to arrive in the mail — wondering just what the rates of charge might be for a doctor who lived in such a grand house.
It was later that I learned that Dr. Hale did not build his antique collection on profits extracted (forgive my pun) from his patients. He built his antique collection, as he explained to me, by “trading up.”
There was one other occasion I will tell when Al was inordinately kind to me in a professional capacity. I had been off at Montreat, our Presbyterian conference center in North Carolina, and came home with a terribly sore wisdom tooth. My dentist in Cleveland had urged me for years to have it tended to, but I always had an excuse.
Coming back to Holly Springs, I went straight to Dr. Hale’s office. I did not even stop by my apartment. (I was living above Tyson’s at the time.) Rose Fitch kindly made way for me to see Al on an emergency basis. As it happened, though, it was “career day” at Holly Springs High School, and Al told me he had a student observing his procedures in the office that day who was considering a career in dentistry. Would I mind if she watched him remove my infected tooth?
I readily agreed, and Al went right to work doing what had to be done. I am afraid that my situation, while routine enough in the course of a typical dentist’s day at the office, must have been an “eye-opener” to the young student who was watching the proceedings. At any rate, Al had to lay down his instruments, and with his assistant, had to rescue the poor child as she nearly fainted and fell to the floor. I have always regretted the fact that my poor tooth may have obliterated an aspiring young person’s original career goal!
Knowing I lived alone, Dr. Hale phoned several times to make sure I was all right. The administration of “pastoral care” by medical personnel is now fairly rare and so I thought it was remarkable, and I appreciated it more than words could say.
In addition to his professional practice, interest in antiques, and participation in the Rotary Club, Al was first, last, and always a Baptist. But his love for God and humanity spilled over into deeds of kindness for other churches, of which our church was one. Knowing that he played for the early service at First Baptist, I called on Al on occasion to come over and play for us when our church musician had to be away. He was always unfailingly gracious to us in this regard, and we gave him a key so that he could come and practice on our pipe organ whenever he desired.
Whenever Al welcomed guests to his home, the tour always concluded with a mini-concert on the Steinway grand piano in his music room. Al could play anything from classical to hymns to jazz.
But one thing everybody grasped, and that was how much he personally enjoyed welcoming people to his homes. He once told me that nobody should invest in a grand house unless they derived personal pleasure from sharing with others. “You’ll never come out financially on an old house,” he confided. “You have to do it because of the joy and satisfaction it brings to you.”
Al rejoiced in the hundreds of friends he welcomed to his homes — “White Pillars,” “Grey Gables,” and most recently, “Hill Top.” His collection of antiques was without parallel in the Mid-South, but it was the friendship and personal interest that brought all those things to life. All who knew him will cherish their memories of the faith and friendship of this good and interesting Christian gentleman.
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