Love blooms in a small town dental clinic
Heading toward Boone on N.C. Highway 105, just after the entrance to Seven Devils, the speed limit drops to 35 mph. This is the community of Foscoe, N.C., a whisper of a mountain town that caters mostly to tourists motoring between Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain.
People will tell you that not much happens in Foscoe, other than an occasional traffic stop. But a little over five years ago, two important things happened. One was a Missions of Mercy dental clinic – better known as NCMOM — where a whole lot of local people in need got free dental care.
It’s also where a first year orthodontic resident and a student dental assistant fell in love.
Gary Tucker and Sarah Massey came to Foscoe and joined dozens of other MOM volunteers in November 2006. They almost didn’t come to the clinic at all. But fate intervened.
“We both attended the clinic only because each of us had a friend invite us,” Sarah, who was studying dental assisting at UNC-Chapel Hill at the time, said. “We came so close to never meeting.”
But Gary, who was in his first year of orthodontics residency at UNC, and Sarah had a chance meeting in the lobby of their hotel in the predawn hours as they were leaving for the MOM event that started at sunup.
“We were up really early and wearing scrubs, so it was safe to assume that we were all volunteering at the same clinic,” Sarah said.
“When we met I, of course, thought she was beautiful, but since we were trying to find out where the clinic was going to be that day, I was a little distracted about finding directions,” Gary said.
“It was funny that Sarah and her friend followed us to the clinic because they told us they knew where to go,” Gary said. ”Obviously they didn’t so we had to quickly catch the MOM truck so we could find our way.”
“I ended up assisting Gary’s friend during the clinic while Gary treated patients at the chair next to ours,” Sarah said.
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, though. The two parted ways after the clinic and returned to student life as usual in Chapel Hill. But, they were bound to meet again.
“I never thought anything of Gary until the next week when he stopped me in the hall. We probably saw each other a hundred times in the UNC Dental School without noticing each other, but it took a trip to Foscoe for us to finally meet,” Sarah said.
After reconnecting, the two ate many lunches together on an old couch in UNC’s Dental School building.
“Once I got to know Sarah, some of the best parts of my day were at lunch. We would sit down on that dingy yellow couch to hang out,” said Gary. “We would just relax and talk about every topic imaginable.”
At Sarah’s invitation, the couple saw each other again at a Christmas party a few weeks later. She later found out that Gary, who had no transportation, rented a car just to come see her.
“When she invited me to her party, I had to get two things: a new jacket and a rental car. I though it was silly that I was in residency and didn’t even own a car at the time,” Gary said.
But it was money well spent. Gary stayed until all of the other guests left to spend time with Sarah, and the Tuckers were married on March 28, 2009.
They now own their own practice, Tucker Orthodontics, in Winston Salem, N.C.
“We have the same vision as far as giving exceptional care to our patients. This office couldn’t be a better fit for us. I refer to us as ‘The Tucker Team,’” Sarah said.
But, having your husband for a “boss” comes with its own set of consequences, admits Sarah.
“He always threatens to write me up if I get to the office a minute late, even though he’s the one driving us both to work,” she added.
Sarah and Gary continue to volunteer at NCMOM clinics, but these days they are working as a professional dental team, rather than at separate chairs.
“We really enjoy the opportunity that the MOM clinics give us to help our community,” said Sarah. “The happiness that we are able to give these patients makes it all worth it.”
It’s been said that NCMOM is, in fact, a special, lasting experience for those who come for treatment and for those who volunteer. But for the Tuckers, an NCMOM clinic in a tiny mountain town not only served as a meaningful way to serve the community, but also brought them together.