INNISFAIL - Dr. Clifford Tym remembers his first patients from when he secured his own dental practice in town more than 53 years ago.
One of those patients he served that first week was Bonnie Jean Brown. Fifty-three years later she was still a patient and drove to Innisfail on Dec. 10 to see Tym.
Town of Innisfail Mayor Jean Barclay also dropped by. Her father Lorne was his patient.
Both Brown and the mayor came by Tym's longstanding Innisfail Dental Centre to say goodbye.
At noon on Dec. 10, Tym officially retired. His last patient was Raymond Smith, who has been with Tym since 2004, drove from his new home in Ponoka for a last check-up.
“What an honour. He has really treated me well over the years,” said Smith of Tym, noting the kindly country doc is truly a painless professional. “In fact, sometimes he says to me, ‘Do you want me to numb your teeth?’ Because he knows I don’t have any feeling from the root canals I had.
“I said, ‘no’. He works on them with no freezing. He’s that good.”
The good dentist, perhaps one of the last of the good old fashioned country doctor mould, is now looking ahead. He officially retired Dec. 10 after caring for Innisfailians for more than a half century. He’s still robust at the age of 78, and is eager to pursue new priorities.
“When you start looking at the end of the tunnel there’s a few things you’d like to maybe do with what’s left in life,” said Tym, who sold his practice this past fall. “I like my work. You meet with people and talk about things but I thought, ‘well, maybe its time.”
He is now set to make firm plans to travel with wife Ann to see family in the United States, volunteering his dentistry expertise for underprivileged children at Red Deer’s DOoR program and making some sweet music.
“I am hoping to get my lip back in shape so I can join a community band. I used to play trumpet, and I have a hobby with ham radio that I have dabbled in,” said Tym.
Born in Consort and raised in Lacombe by his school teacher mother, it was on Oct. 1, 1968 when the 25-year-old Tym began his long and distinguished dentistry career, four months after graduating from Loma Linda University in California.
After purchasing the practice from Dr. Charles Greene, he initially rented space at the Co-op store on Innisfail’s Main Street but was forced to move in 1971 when Co-op had expansion plans. Tym decided to build new professional quarters at 4935 - 49th Street, where he would work until retirement.
To add flavour to his new quarters, as well as creating an interesting conversation starter, he adorned the exterior with the last load of bricks that were part of the decommissioned historic railway roundhouse in Mirror.
Professionally, all but one of his 53 years of dentistry service was dedicated to serve the dental needs of Innisfailians. That one year exception, from 1979 to 1980, was committed as a special dentistry volunteer in Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa. He had another dentist cover his Innisfail practice and went with his family to help the needy in Africa.
“The country had about five and a half million people at that time and there were five dentists in the country, two of them in our clinic,” he said.
But when the year was over there was no doubt where he would go next, and that was back to Innisfail where he wanted to continue the deep connection he had with the citizens he served for the first 11 years of his career.
“You get to know people. They are almost like family. You talk about things you have in common. They develop a trust in you. They know what to expect. They know that you can be counted on,” said Tym. “I want them to be better off when they leave then when they came in. I can give a painless injection. There have been times I have removed a tooth from a patient and they didn’t even know it was out. That’s the way it works for me.”
But was there any point in Tym’s 53 years of service to Innisfail he ever seriously considered moving to a larger municipality to earn more money, increased public recognition and the chance to climb the professional ladder?
“Not in that way, I don’t think,” he said. “I chose this town. I could have ended up in Red Deer. When I graduated the opportunity was either Stettler or Innisfail. It just turned out that Dr. Greene wanted to retire. I thought I’d just step into this gentleman’s shoes and I bought his practice, and we went with it.”
Stettler’s loss was certainly Innisfail’s gain, and it’s happening again. The new dentist at Innisfail Dental Centre is Dr. Ritesh Donga. He comes to Innisfail after serving three years as an associate dentist in Stettler.