Frank M. Mathews was a rebooter with a twist – he never really stopped working, he just passed up several opportunities to officially retire. He extended his active working career well into his 70’s. His motivation? “Being able to help other people.”
Frank was a dentist. After closing his dental practice in 2005, he provided dental health and education services in schools and dental clinics in and around Atlanta, GA. He passed away in 2019.
His career had multiple phases. Upon graduation from Dental School at the University of Alabama, Frank went into private practice for five years. Then he served a three-year tour in the U.S. Army, spending a good portion of that time in Korea and the Far East.
When his military service was completed, he joined the faculty at Emory University Dental School in Atlanta as a professor of public health, an area of practice that was to become a lifelong passion. He soon became director of the dental program at Emory, but his career took an unexpected detour in 1975 when Emory decided to close its dental school.
Out of a job, he joined a partnership in the real estate business and spent four years selling houses and commercial properties. “It was interesting – we really got into it, fixing up houses, painting, drywalling, the whole thing,” he said. “But then in 1979 the position of DeKalb County Board of Health dental health director opened up, and I was fortunate to be selected.”
“More than once I thought about retiring,” he said. “At one point I thought I’d try to make it to 60 (the retirement age for the DeKalb County Board of Health). Something would pull at me to stop, but it seemed that there was always something pulling me to stay – the benefits, the opportunity to try something new, or just the love of doing the work.”
Frank distinguished himself in a number of ways during his career. He opened one of the first dental clinics in Atlanta for Hispanic patients, helped organize a dental clinic in the then-Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia, and opened the first dental clinic for HIV patients in Georgia. “A man called me one day and asked if I treated HIV-positive patients. I told him regretfully that I did not, but after the call I felt very bad about it. So I decided to go out and organize a clinic especially for HIV-positive patients.” Now there are several in Atlanta, including one at Grady Memorial Hospital.
In recognition of his service, Frank was honored with the Jules Terry Memorial Award, presented annually to the most outstanding worker in public health in Georgia.
By 2005 his scope of responsibilities had grown to the point where he was running six dental clinics in the Atlanta area. That year, at age 70, Frank decided to officially “retire.” His “retirement” hadn’t even become effective when he was asked to stay on in an hourly capacity as an advisor to the new dental health director.
“I agreed to come in one day a week, Wednesday,” Frank said. “I helped the new director and he’s now going full steam. Then they asked me if I would continue my educational work with the schools, and consider two days a week, so before long it was Tuesday and Wednesday. Now it’s Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”
In addition to his dental service work, Frank made time to volunteer at the Thrift House of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta. The organization accepts donations of used clothes and household goods and resells them at very low prices. “The Thrift House earns more than $3,000 a month for the Cathedral,” he said. “Recently we were able to buy the church a new van with a hydraulic lift for transportation of the elderly. We have a great time down there, hanging up clothes, seeing if an old radio still works, telling jokes, and working our butts off.”
What drove Frank to remain so active?
“I think it’s simply the benefit of being useful, and being able to help other people,” he said. “The feeling of being needed by someone else is a powerful motivator.”