Coronavirus forces Spanish Fort Dentist to close his ‘Honky Tonk Fillin’ Station’

Coronavirus

Mobile, Ala. (WKRG) — Not many can claim ‘living legacy’ status. But one Gulf Coast man can. For 54 years Dr. Barry Booth practiced dentistry in Baldwin County at what he called his ‘honky-tonk fillin’ station.’ But the coronavirus pandemic forced him to ‘change lanes’ earlier this year.

But even at the age of 80, Dr. Booth isn’t exactly slowing down, despite his sudden retirement. Back in May, the pandemic put the writing on the wall for the now octogenarian.

“I was talking to my daughters and they said “Daddy, you’re 80 years old–you need to change lanes.”

Recently, an impromptu reunion was held at the Spanish Fort office where Booth has practiced for 54 years. It brought some fond memories from all of the staff who worked with him.

Bill Kirkland said, “I was the labman–I worked for him for 35 years. We made a lot of people smile.”

“He would give me a headache once in a while–I’d have to quit and take a break,” Joann Ruffin joked.

Ann Pumphrey said she worked with Dr. Booth for 43 years. And Phil Williams said it’s been more than two decades. “I’ve been fixing Dr. Booth’s equipment for about 23 years,” he said.

Needless to say when Dr. Booth had to tell his staff back in May that he was putting his dental tools away, it was a bit of a shock.

“I knew it would end but I didn’t know how it would end,” said Pumphrey.

“It was an emotional decision,” said Booth in a brittle voice. “We’re not crying because it’s over–word is, we’re smiling because it all happened.”

But this little ‘fillin’ station’ is more than that. At times it was a base of operations for many of Dr. Booth’s other adventures—like Honor Flight South Alabama.

“Nine total honor flights. We took 957 World War Two Veterans to Washington,” he said.

To do that, Booth surrounded himself with others he already knew could do the job. Retired Army Colonels Pat Downing and John New, Retired Navy Commander Pete Riehm, and Margaret Coley, who orchestrated a big welcome home for the vets—the kind they didn’t get when they returned from World War Two.

“We had a grand, grand time,” said Booth. “But nobody had a better time than those veterans. They would say it was the best field trip they’d ever been on in their life.”

The purpose of the Honor Flights was to take the vets, many who couldn’t go on their own because of health of finances, to see their memorial in Washington.

But Dr. Booth was also instrumental in honoring those vets and others in another way. His gift of land made it possible to establish the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spanish Fort.

“The Mobile National Cemetery was full—the alternatives were Biloxi and Barrancas. And we wanted our own local,” he said.

Those who know Dr. Booth also know that he never really takes credit for anything and prefers to give credit to others. There is no doubt there were many people who worked to make the cemetery and Honor Flights happen. But there is little doubt none of it would have happened without Dr. Booth.

For now, Booth will continue as a Commissioner for U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, an appointment he’s held for the past fifteen years. Since his dental retirement, Booth spends time at an almost 800 acre tract of land in Baldwin County adjacent to the veterans’ cemetery that he owns and calls ‘Shiloh.’

His motto now is ’80 is the new 20.’ When he’s not at ‘Shiloh,’ he may be the one passing you on his Harley, something he’s finding a little more time for.

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