KINGSPORT — After 20 years in Kingsport and thousands of patients, Dr. Arthur Garrett has decided to hang up his white coat and retire.
Garrett, a pediatrician practicing in Kingsport, will retire on Friday. It was a journey he didn’t know he would take, mostly because he wanted to be a biologist, not a doctor.
“I never really thought about going to medical school,” he said. “From the time I was real little, I wanted to be a biologist. I wanted to do radiation biology. ”
Garrett received his undergraduate degree from Alabama College, then went on to get his master’s degree from the University of Georgia. He then received his Ph.D from Emory University.
While pursuing his master’s degree, Garrett met a young woman named Nancy. He said it was love at first sight, although she remembers that he asked her roommate out first. He doesn’t recall that.
The two quickly hit it off and began dating in 1962. While Garrett went to Emory for his doctorate, Nancy stayed behind to finish her master’s. The two were married in 1965.
Around 1970, the couple lived in Alabama. He worked for the public health service in Montgomery and taught at the University of South Alabama. Garrett also was a member of the Alabama state air quality standards. He realized the only people being listened to were medical doctors. So he made a decision that would alter the course of his life.
He decided to go back to school, this time to pursue his medical degree. He was in his early 30s and had one child when he went back.
By the time he finished out his last year of residency, Garrett was 40 years old and had two children. When he started his degree, he thought it would help with some research he was doing involving radiation. But when he finished his studies, something very different happened.
“It turned out to be so much fun practicing that I never went back into research,” he said.
Garrett completed his residency in 1980 and did emergency room medicine in Alabama and Mississippi for a while. He moved to North Carolina for a couple of years and in 1983 made his way to Kingsport, where Nancy is from.
He worked a couple of years with children and then worked seven years for East Tennessee State University. While at ETSU, he mainly worked with patients who had genetic disorders. Around 1992, he started practicing in Kingsport again, and in 2004, he opened his own pediatric practice.
When he started his pediatric practice on his own, he was 65.
He put an ad in the newspaper to advertise his practice and many of his patients followed him.
For some families, Garrett is the only doctor they’ve known. He treated them when they were kids. Then when they got older, he treated their kids, and he has even treated some of his patients’ grandchildren.
He thinks of all the children he treats as extended family.
“It’s kind of like having several hundred grandchildren,” he said. “I’ve got four grandkids, but several hundred more that I kind of feel the same sense of wanting to see them do well.”
Garrett did whatever was necessary for the kids he treated. If a patient had trouble coming to the office to see him, he would make a house call.
One of his patients, Cynthia Robbins, had just given birth and was having complications from the Cesarean section. When she woke up, Garrett was sitting in the rocking chair, holding her twins.
“This is a big loss to the medical community and to the local community,” Robbins said. “I worried about him retiring before they were grown.”
Robbins said he has helped her children a lot and if it not for him, her kids would be having more issues than what they already have. She said her children aren’t afraid to go to the doctor because it’s Dr. Garrett.
Being a children’s doctor follows Garrett everywhere. He said kids will come up to him in the mall and show their belly to him to show him what’s wrong.
As retirement approaches, he has a few plans. He enjoys gardening and has plans to dig in the dirt of his front yard. He also wants to play more tennis, hike and become more involved in his church.
He will be 74 years old soon and feels like it is time to retire, even if it is hard for him to leave his patients.
He will miss his patients and his patients will miss him.
"There will be many, many rubies on his crown in heaven,” Robbins said. “He’s earned them.”