Dentist marks a golden year

Filling 50 years with cleaning and extractions a joy, says R.C. Walton

Staff WriterDecember 8, 2005 

R.C. Walton Jr. is 81, but says he feels 35, which may explain why he continues to work six days a week protecting Raleigh's smiles.

In his cramped, outdated dentist's office in Cameron Village, Walton marked 50 years in practice on Wednesday.

In those years, Walton has attracted an impressive following. His patients -- sometimes three generations of a family -- keep coming back, even when they move away.

There are people in California and others in Washington, D.C., and New York who consider Walton their family dentist -- college students and people who grew up opening wide for him every six months.

When they come back to Raleigh during the holidays or on summer vacation, they make an appointment. Walton is glad to see them.

"I enjoy helping people," said Walton, who retains the full head of hair he sports in his dental school photo, UNC Class of 1955. "I don't do it for the money."

He'll usher them back to one of his vintage dental chairs. One is sea-foam green, another chocolate-brown, with enameled metal. They look as if they should be in a museum. Patients agree.

"They'll come in and say, 'Is he going to donate this to the Smithsonian?' " said Anita Williamson, Walton's dental hygienist who has worked for him for 23 years.

The older he has gotten, she said, the harder he has worked.

He used to take a week of vacation at the beach. Now he complains the ride is too long.

He works nonstop, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week. On Saturday, he leaves at 1 p.m. He never breaks for lunch.

He's not one of those dentists who try to sell patients on teeth whitening or cosmetic caps. "He always says, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' " Williamson said.

But when action needs to be taken, he takes it.

Theresa Brackin couldn't sleep Tuesday night. Her tooth throbbed. She'd been derelict in visiting Walton lately. But he made room for her in his Wednesday schedule.

The culprit -- a rotted molar -- needed to come out. Now!

He numbed the area. She looked very nervous.

"Let's see if I can't be nice to you," he said jovially.

Brackin looked dubious.

He tugged, and it was over.

"Alright," he said, his voice like an anesthetic. "No problem."

Brackin said she didn't feel a thing. "He's so nice."

Walton served in the military in the 1940s, ending up as an Air Force pilot. While enlisted, he saw a military dentist.

"I got hurt so bad by that dentist, I said anybody could do better," he said.

So he tried.

As Walton tells it, he left the service on a Friday and enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill that Monday. He graduated in the university's second dental class.

Half a century is a long time in the enamel business. But Walton is just cutting his baby teeth in comparison to Manfred Blanchard, an Eden dentist who has been practicing 61 years.

Nor is he the oldest. A dentist in Clemmons, listed as semi-retired with the state Board of Dental Examiners, is 96.

Such perseverance meets with Walton's approval. He says he'll never retire.

"We'll probably find him passed out on the floor one day," Williamson said.

Staff writer Bonnie Rochman can be reached at 829-4871 or brochman@newsobserver.com.

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