Southaven dentist Dr. Charles Harbison will wake up Tuesday morning and first thing will do the exact same thing he’s done for years: make the bed. That action dates back to his days in the Marine Corps.

“The first thing I’ve always done is make up the bed,” Harbison said. “When you get out of the bed you make up the bed. Half of your day is then started, you make a list for the rest of the day, so at night, you can say, ‘what have I done today?’”

As of Tuesday, Harbison will not have seeing patients on that list, however. The nearly 80-year-old man has hung up his drill and has completed a 50-year dental career, all of it in Southaven and DeSoto County.

“Nobody should have to go find a new dentist that’s 80 years old,” Harbison explained. “I’m not quite 80 but I will be this year.”

There have been countless numbers of patients over the years that have had Harbison provide them dental care. And Harbison has seen many of them for much of his 50-year practice.

Jon Reeves is one who started seeing Harbison and what was a professional acquaintance turned into a lifelong friendship.

“I’ve known Charlie probably 30-plus years or better,” Reeves said. “We were in a couple of hunting clubs and he’s been the dentist for me and my wife for as long as we can remember. We hit it off and we got to be friends and then social friends for years.”

Reeves is far from the only one who can say they’ve not seen anyone other than Harbison, who notes the long list includes those who have preceded him in retirement.

“I’ve got patients that I see and they tell me I am the only dentist they’ve ever seen and it’s true because I started with them when they were 12 or 13 years old,” Harbison said. “Now all of a sudden they’ve retired.”

It was in the Marine Corps when Harbison decided to go into dentistry. Initially he was planning on going into medicine, but a friend from his hometown of Jackson advised him to look at a career in dentistry instead.

“I thought, ‘that’s not a bad idea,’” Harbison said. “You get to make your own hours and you can see as many or as few patients as you want.”

Following graduation from the University of Mississippi and the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry in Memphis, Harbison eventually set up his practice in Southaven and has stayed there ever since.

He’s seen a lot of changes in dental care over the years.

“They have these new composites and new materials that they’ve come out with that bond to the tooth,” Harbison said. “You can actually do a crown in the office. We had the first machine where you could do a crown when you came in.”

Another generation of dentists has been inspired by Harbison, namely daughter Dr. Beth Kakales, DDS, who practices in Cordova, Tenn., and her husband John, who shares the Southaven practice with Harbison and will take over with another dentist yet to partner with Kakales.

Southaven and DeSoto County have been good to Harbison, who has practiced here longer than Southaven has been a city.

“I like it and I’ve enjoyed the place,” Harbison said. “This was a little country town trying to be a big town. They’ve finally made it.”

Future plans include more golf and fishing and a summer trip to the West Coast to visit old Marine Corps buddies from the days he was stationed at 29 Palms Marine Base in California.

But first things first. Make the bed when you get up.

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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