40 YEARS AND COUNTING: Dr. William Harrell says retirement is nowhere in sight

Dr. Harrell, right, talks about some the imaging equipment that he uses and the importance of making sure the airway develops properly at a young age. With Harrell is his first patient Darrell Mobley. (Cliff Williams / The Outlook )

Visits to Lake Martin as a teenager in the 1960s opened the eyes of Dr. William Harrell to the area.

“We got a Russell cabin back in the late ‘60s as Willow Point was being built,” Harrell said. “That is what attracted my dad here. This is where I spent a lot of my summers.”

Harrell decided early in life he was going to be an orthodontist after getting braces himself.

“Really at 12 I knew what I wanted to do,” Harrell said. “Dr. Tom Horton was an orthodontist in Columbus, Georgia. He was the first orthodontist between Atlanta and Jacksonville, Florida. I was 12 years old and they didn’t have all the fancy wires we have today. I had all these loopy doop things.”

Harrell like to take things apart like old radios.

“I liked to work with my hands,” Harrell said. “I went home that night (after getting braces) and got a pair of pliers and a coat hanger.”

No, Harrell did not take apart his braces.

“I made a copy of my wires,” Harrell said. “I took it back to him the next time I went back and he put me in the lab with a pair of pliers and wires and said do these exercises.”

In 1977 fresh out of dental school at UAB and the orthodontics program at University of Pennsylvania, the Columbus, Georgia native had a decision to make about following his life long dream, where to open his first practice?

“I had worked for an orthodontist all through dental school,” Harrell said. “I was going to open a practice in Columbus and was going to go in with Dr. Horton and Dr. Lane. During that time I was in Pennsylvania they spilt. I could still go back to Columbus and open up or I could go elsewhere.”

It was then he got advice from his father and looked at the cabin from his teenage years.

“My dad said why not look at Alex City?” Harrell said.

From there Harrell asked around talking to Gene Davenport of Russell Lands and an Alexander City pediatrician.

“Stan Brasfield was a pediatrician here at the time,” Harrell said. “I figured he would know the kids here at the time. He was telling me about the population of kids here at the time.”

From there Harrell made a business decision.

“I spent a lot of my summers here,” Harrell said. “I kinda saw the growth potential here. There were only some guys satelliting in. I got looking around where to practice and the only place I wanted to live was Alex City.”

The rest is history.

Tuesday, Darrell Mobley dropped in for a visit. Mobley was Harrell’s first patient and continued to be for seven years. But that did not deter Mobley as his daughter Camille was a Harrell patient.

“I had to be one of his hardest challenges,” Mobley said. “I used to not even smile, now look at it.”

“They (Mobley’s parents) had been to other orthodontists around,” Harrell said. “His case was very challenging. They didn’t know what to do.”

Harrell seized on the opportunity being new in town.

“I am like I am this hotshot new guy in town and can handle anything and we did,” Harrell said. “It was a long road. He had a mess. Look at how good he is today.”

Harrell has his sights set on the future.

“Darrell was the first patient that we bracketed up and it’s all his fault,” Harrell said. “I am still practicing 1000s of patients later and there is no retirement in sight.

“We were the first practice in the state to do 3-D imaging,” Harrell said. “And the first in the U.S. to combine it with 3-D face imaging. It has changed the whole way I look at things.”

Harrell believes the imaging can help prevent problems in later in life like sleep apnea.

“It is about growing the airway,” Harrell said.

The future has Harrell excited.

“I am writing a textbook,” he said. “The book is going to be the entry. I am going to do some lecturing.”

Both Harrell and Mobley are Alabama fans and agree the lecturing cannot get in the way of one thing.

“I won’t be lecturing in the fall,” Harrell said. “It will have to be after the next national championship.”