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- 23rd president of the United States (1833–1901)
PANAMA CITY — One dental office cemented in Bay County history is staying in the family a little longer.
Brothers Dr. Jacob Harrison and Dr. Benjamin Harrison recently bought and took over Harrison Dental Associates, the dental practice of their grandfather, W.G. Harrison, once he began his retirement after 62 years of working in Panama City.
“This is my hobby and I really miss getting to see everybody,” W.G. Harrison said. “I’m getting some messages from some of them, letters, gift cards, saying they didn’t think I was going to retire. Of course, I miss all that.”
The third-generation dentists said with two of them now running the show, they hope to get to more patients and spread their grandfather’s philosophy of treating each person like they are a part of the family.
“We’re trying to expand that into the community and give people a place to go where they know they’re going to be treated with respect and integrity and they can trust they are getting the best care from people that have their best interest at heart,” Benjamin Harrison said.
Transition from Harrison to Harrisons
The brothers acquired the practice and debuted in July of this year after years of planning and conversations with their grandfather, who will celebrate his 88th birthday next week. It all started when the younger Harrisons came back from college and needed to plan on where to practice, Benjamin Harrison said.
Through a stroke of luck, it was this year that their grandfather came to the decision to retire from his beloved hobby.
“We weren’t really sure how it would all work out as far as when we came back and where we would practice,” Benjamin Harrison said. “The timing worked out really well. He was finally ready to retire at 87 and we were both out of school and ready to move home and start practicing.”
The brothers both graduated with their undergraduate degrees and doctorates in dental medicine from the University of Florida. Benjamin Harrison said they each separately looked at and tried out other majors before realizing they wanted to follow in their family’s footsteps.
“We grew up surrounded by dentists because there’s so many dentists in our family,” Benjamin Harrison said. “Both of us individually went through the back-and-forth question of ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ And so, you start with what’s familiar to you.”
Since their start in mid-summer, Benjamin Harrison said it has gone better than expected with a few kinks but luckily, the familiar faces in the office have lent a helping hand.
“It has been an uphill battle at times because any transition and change is hard for anyone, but we’ve had really great staff that have helped us navigate that,” Benjamin Harrison said. “Most of the people involved are family and having that literal family dynamic has helped us a lot with the transition.”
Having family members around who they can bounce ideas off of or get advice from helped the transition, they said. Jacob Harrison said they are grateful for how well everything has gone.
“If you just look back five years ago of how it would have gone, this is as much as we could have asked for,” Jacob Harrison said. “God has definitely blessed us. The planning started before July and it’s been years in the making. Really you couldn’t have asked for it to have come better than what it has. For us and for him as well.”
They are especially grateful for the support and trust given from their grandfather, who waited for as long as he could to make the transition easier for his patients.
“We kept saying he was holding on for the patients,” Jacob Harrison said. “He didn’t want to leave the patients stranded for a year or two years, three years. He was just really holding on for the patients, so they could have that smooth transition from him to us.”
The Legacy of W.G. Harrison
W.G. Harrison, also an alum of the University of Florida, was born in Panama City in 1933. He opened his practice in 1959 and was the president of the Florida Dental Association from 1994 to 1995.
He has been a staple in the community since the 1950s, seeing generations of patients grow in front of him.
“I care about the person because I know them,” W.G. Harrison said. “You’re going to be nicer to people you know.”
The brothers said they always heard it from his side — how much he loved dentistry, how much he loved his patients and how the practice was his home.
Now they get to hear it from the patients’ side.
“To hear them talk about how much they love him and all the great stuff he’s done for over 50 years is nice to hear,” Jacob Harrison said. “These patients genuinely do love him and they were genuinely devastated to hear that he was gone and that’s kind of cool to hear.”
Benjamin Harrison said his grandfather still comes to the office almost every day to hang out and talk to whoever comes through the door — something he always has done.
“Regardless of who happens to be on the schedule that day, it’s someone that he is going to have a personal connection with,” Benjamin Harrison said. “Someone that he wants to come and say hello. He wants to shake your hand and see how you’re doing.”
They said their grandfather instilled good values in them and they are fortunate that they have this sturdy foundation already laid down. They said they want to continue his 62-year legacy by continuing to care for patients and build long-lasting bonds within the community.
“To be able to take on patients that he has been taking care of their entire life and now we get to be able to take care of them and their kids and their grandkids,” Jacob Harrison said. “I think that’s the best way to continue his legacy ... to make his patients feel like they have a place to go where they know you and trust you and they don’t have to worry about all the things that people can worry about.”
Combining the past, present and future
Jacob and Benjamin said as they continue the path of owning the practice, they want the previous patients to expect the same treatment they have received for decades.
“It’s set us up to where we’re going to treat our patients like family because that’s what they have come to expect,” Jacob Harrison said. “They don’t come in and just expect good dentistry. They expect that but they expect so much more. They expect us to treat them like family and genuinely care about them.”
They also are looking to make their own mark on the practice, wanting to move into the future without abandoning family values.
“They were certainly not paperless before we got here, that was a big transition from the beginning,” Jacob Harrison said. “We’re trying to pull into the 21st century but we want to keep the good old school stuff of how he treated his patients and that it was a family atmosphere.”
The elder Harrison said he is leaving the practice in good hands with his grandsons but jokingly said he will need to “watch out first.”
Jacob said they both view their grandfather as the ultimate role model for a dentist and will put every piece of him into their practice going forward.
“You learn about the dental part, about being a good dentist, you learn that in school. But learning how to really care about patients and make them feel like they are a part of your family, that’s probably the biggest thing we have learned from him,” Jacob Harrison said. “He was an excellent clinician and president of the FDA as well, but definitely the marquee left on his patients was that he cared about them.”
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Florida dentists take on grandfather's practice Harrison Dental Associates