Change a smile … change a life. That has been a lifetime motto for Dr. Thad Gillespie, from his first graduation from dental school in 1980 through his years in the Air Force right up to moving his private dental practice to Liberty Hill in 2001. In fact, the father of seven has a history of caring and commitment that has had a decided impact. And that commitment was in evidence long before he came to Liberty Hill.
However his decision to be a dentist was almost on a whim. “(How I decided to be a dentist) is a little strange, but it was part fate and part process of elimination,” said Dr. Gillespie. “My dad is a pharmacist and talked me out of doing that. My physician was a general practice doctor that delivered babies and did surgery in the hospital in addition to his practice. He started out at 6:30 in the morning and went home after doing hospital rounds in the evening. Sounded like too much work! My dentist didn’t seem to work too hard. He came in and did a little work and I assumed went to sit and read or something until he came back to see me. In reality, he saw three or four other people before he came back. So, I got lucky because I based part of my decision on faulty information. My dentist was pretty cool though and helped me with a science project in sixth grade. By the time I was in junior high I already knew that I wanted to be a dentist. It has been a great profession choice for me and with all the advances in technology is getting better every day!”
After graduating from Midwestern State University and the University Dental Branch in Houston in 1980, Dr. Gillespie served in the United States Air Force from 1980 to 1984. During his tour, he received several honors, including the Defense Meritorious Service medal for work identifying Marines who died in the 1983 bombing in Beirut. He also served on a team that examined and treated hostages who were released from Tehran.
Dr. Gillespie returned to Texas in 1984 and opened his own practice in northwest Austin in 1985. He opened a practice in Liberty Hill in 2001. He became immediately involved in the community, joining the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce, the All Sports Booster Club, Band Boosters and Christian Business Leaders as well as sponsoring many sports teams. He also assists with the Head Start Program in Liberty Hill, Leander and Georgetown, providing exams, treatment and classroom education.
But Dr. Gillespie’s heart didn’t stop there. He wanted to give back to a community that is so quick to help others. He decided to offer a Smile Makeover to a community-minded individual as his way of paying back to the community.
“Servants’ hearts are often overlooked and seldom rewarded,” stated an initial press release for the Smile Makeover contest. “At this time of the year and at a time in our history when people are hurting more than ever, Dr. Gillespie and the team at Liberty Hill Dental wanted to reward those who give so much and receive so little with a new reason to smile.”
The contest required an application to be filled out and then applicants were asked to write an essay on why they wanted the smile makeover. Applications were taken from Liberty Hill and the surrounding area. Members of the Ministerial Alliance in Liberty Hill were asked to review the essays and pick who they thought was most deserving. When it came time to decide, the pastors narrowed it down to two very deserving people. So, Dr. Gillespie decided to award them both. Those two outstanding applicants were Stacee Caseltine and A.J. Collins.
“One of our goals in doing the smile makeover was to help someone who was either unemployed or underemployed get a better job,” said Dr. Gillespie. “Along those lines, Stacee’s story was very compelling. When I met her for the first time, I was even more interested in what future was possible for her. It was very gratifying to see the joy in her face when she could finally smile. A smile is an easy thing to take for granted until you don’t have one. Since finishing, Stacee has gotten married and found a great job! An added benefit was her ability to participate with her kids activities without fear of embarrassment for the kids or herself. This was priceless!
“When the ministerial alliance picked Stacee, I was not surprised. But as we went through the applications, A.J.’s stood out as well. It was submitted by his wife Joni whose letter was very compelling. I felt that we needed to include A.J. even though it was for different reasons. He was already out there working and doing much for the church. She felt that something needed to be done for A.J. as he never asked for anything for himself. He was a delight to work with and things turned out very well.”
Within two weeks of contacting the winners, Dr. Gillespie was ready to roll. And roll he did. Both winners had extreme fear of dentists, but both were put at ease. Now, one year later, both willingly smile with confidence, reflecting on the outside how they feel on the inside.
A member and Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry, Dr. Gillespie is a mentor with the Kois Center and was a teaching associate with the Hornbrook Group. He also serves as the dental director for Samaritan Health Ministries in Cedar Park, an organization that treats indigent patients or those who do not have medical coverage. His practice, Liberty Hill Dental, is located at 14933 W. SH 29, just south of the railroad track in Liberty Hill, (512) 515-0171. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit their website at www.libertyhilldental.com or find them on facebook.
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