If you ask UAB School of Dentistry alumni to list the professors they remember from their time in school, chances are good that Dr. Tommy Weatherford’s name will be on that list.

That’s because Dr. Weatherford has been a beloved faculty member at the School since he graduated from it himself in 1961. Originally from Uriah, (“a little town you’ve never heard of in South Alabama,” joked Dr. Weatherford) he eventually made his way to Birmingham to lecture and to work in the School’s intramural practice.

When Dr. Weatherford entered Auburn University as a freshman undergrad in 1948, he actually had his sights set on going to Auburn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, which he graduated from in 1954. Following vet school, Tommy joined the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Myer in Virginia as a veterinary officer attached to the 702 Pentagon Dispensary Unit. While serving, he cared for the pets of families living on Fort Myer. “We were the most popular unit on the base because we didn’t ask for anything from anybody. We just took care of things!” Dr. Weatherford recalls.

Weatherford headshot articleAfter two years with the Army, Dr. Weatherford returned to Auburn as an instructor at the Vet School, but ultimately decided that he wanted to pursue a different career in medicine. “I was a bit naïve when I entered (vet) school.” Dr Weatherford admitted. “Farmers, in particular, often placed an economic value on their animals, and refused to spend the money for vet care if treatment costs surpassed the animal’s value. This meant that I rarely completed treatment plans for those animals. It didn’t take me long to realize I wanted to work with humans so that I could give them the best treatment possible, and see those plans come to fruition.” Dr. Weatherford married his wife, Buddie, one week before he came to Birmingham to start classes at the Dental School in September 1957. The couple had no place to live and didn’t know a single person in town. “I don’t particularly recommend doing it that way.” Dr. Weatherford chuckled. “In one single day, I enrolled in classes at the Dental School, my wife got a job at the library, and another librarian she met knew of someone renting out housing units to medical and dental students exclusively. I guess it turned out to be a pretty good day!”

Even though Tommy loved his Dental School classmates and professors, Buddie and Tommy planned to head south after graduation. “We had a little town picked out in North Florida, and I went down to talk to the dentist there who was looking for someone to buy his practice. But on the way home, my wife and I somehow managed to talk ourselves out of it. Then when I got back to Birmingham, I went to talk to Dr. (Joseph) Volker. He convinced me that I didn’t really want to go to Florida after all, and that I actually wanted to stay in Birmingham on the faculty at the Dental School. And it ended up being the perfect fit for me!”

Dr. Volker, the School’s founding dean, hired Dr. Weatherford immediately. “I think what appealed to so many people about working here at the time was that everything was new – there was no history yet. And we could be a part of what Dr. Volker was doing, which was building the Dental School in an excellent way,” said Dr. Weatherford. He was eventually able to work out an arrangement with Dr. Volker in which he remained a full-time faculty member while slowly completing the Department of Periodontology’s Residency Program under Dr. Wallace Mann. “I was drawn to Perio because of the continuous contact with patients,” explained Dr. Weatherford. “In some other specialties, you might perform a procedure on a patient but then never see them again.” After completing his residency, Dr. Weatherford joined the faculty in the Department of Periodontology, and has been there ever since.

If you’ve done the math by this point, you have probably realized that Dr. Weatherford has worked for and known every single dean of the School of Dentistry. He served as the Department of Periodontology’s Residency Program Director from 1976 until 1996. He retains a profound institutional knowledge of the School unlike anyone else, and reflects on all of his present and former deans, peers, colleagues, students, and residents with great fondness. “I wouldn’t change a thing about my career and my time at UAB,” he declared.

Tommy did finally retire from his full-time position in 2007, and in 2012 he was given the title of Professor Emeritus. But he always continued to come to the School once or twice a week to teach and to fill in for other professors. During his career, he served on countless committees and boards, and although he prefers not to travel outside of Birmingham anymore for dental meetings and conferences, he still makes it a point to go to the School’s Alumni Weekend each year to see hundreds of familiar faces. In the late 1960’s, he began teaching classes for the Alabama Hygiene Program because of its commitment to promoting hygiene support to small, rural towns like Uriah where Tommy grew up. But things have certainly slowed down for Dr. Weatherford during the pandemic. In fact, he has spent more time away from the School and profession of dentistry in the last six months than he has – prior to March – since 1957. These days, he prefers to fill his time at home by reading all of the books he never got around to reading for pleasure because he chose instead to read dental books, journals, and articles. His two children, Thomas Kilpatrick “Rick” Weatherford and Kimberly Stevens, both live close to Birmingham still, and Dr. Weatherford feels blessed to see and speak with them often. And of course, he still enjoys being with his wonderful wife, Buddie, with whom he will celebrate 63 years of marriage this September.