Dr. Gary W. Reeves took one look at the 15 filing cabinets in the School of Dentistry dean's offices and knew something had to change.
Agnes Triplett, executive assistant to the dean and de facto curator of the school's official documents, had maintained all manner of paperwork related to the SOD's 35-year history, from personnel records to certification and licensure documents to national awards and everything in between. Every bit of it was stuffed into those cabinets, which were full-to-overflowing.
"I had a lot of records, a lot of files from all the previous deans,” Triplett recalled. As soon as Dr. Reeves got up here (to the dean's office on the fifth floor of the dentistry building), he got me to turn everything into electronic records. There was a lot of paper that had to be scanned and put into the system.
"He wanted me to get rid of the (hard-copy) appointment book I had used for years and start using Outlook. He even made me get rid of my Rolodex. But it's worked out very well - now I have only one file cabinet with one drawer - everything else is electronic.”
Reeves' desire to take advantage of technology, to simplify the complex, was indicative of his personality, but it also reflected his leadership style, according to Dr. Jason Griggs, professor of biomedical materials science.
"He has an amazing ability to think outside the box and really solve problems,” Griggs said. “When I come to him with a problem that I'm not real sure about, one that may take an average person days to mull over, as soon as I start to describe it to him, off the top of his head, he comes up with one or two ways to solve it.
"He doesn't just have an open-door policy - he actually comes to you. He gives people plenty of chances to perform well. He's not severe - he doesn't come down hard on students and staff the first time they make a mistake. He's a forgiving person, willing to give appeals and seriously consider them, willing to make a friendly comment of constructive criticism, willing to give you a chance to improve in the future.”
Reeves' patient, steady approach to the dean's position will doubtlessly be missed by SOD faculty, staff and students alike when he relinquishes his office this winter after having served as interim dean of the school from 2010-12 and dean from 2012-16.
A member of the Medical Center faculty for 30 years, Reeves earned his DMD at UMMC in 1984 after serving four years in the U.S. Army. He had general practice residency training at UMMC and joined the faculty as an instructor in restorative dentistry in 1985. He has been a professor of care planning and restorative sciences since 1996, and was with the Mississippi Army National Guard, Dental Corps, in Iraq in 2004.
Trying to get him to discuss his accomplishments during his tenure as dean is like, well, trying to pull teeth. But when he finally gets around to discussing them, they quickly turn into an impressive list.
And it starts right where it should - with the students.
"Our written board scores are probably about as good as they've ever been,” Reeves said, with an appropriate nod to his faculty. “Our Part 1 and Part 2 board scores, we are either at or above average in every category. When they're first admitted here, our students score below average on dental admissions tests. So that's pretty significant.”
Early in his tenure, Reeves placed an emphasis on funding the Hembree Society - which honors excellence in teaching and learning in the school - making it fully self-sufficient. He helped solidify the school's relationship with organized dentistry, strengthening the SOD's standing with the Mississippi State Board and working with the board to redefine and clarify provisional licensing laws to help the school attract faculty that may not have trained in the United States.
"Dr. Reeves pushed real hard for the renovation of our clinical lab on the fourth floor (of the SOD building),” Triplett said. “That's a very big accomplishment for a small school to have a state-of-the-art lab like we have here.”
He helped convince the family of Dr. James C. Luper to reorganize a loan set up in the former Okolona dentist's name, transferring it to a scholarship that benefits two SOD students each year. And he shepherded the establishment of the Mississippi Rural Dental Scholarship Program, authorized by the state legislature to enable aspiring dentistry students from smaller towns to earn their DMDs in return for providing dental care in rural areas of Mississippi.
As part of the school's consolidation efforts, he reorganized supervision of the clinical staff to a more efficient model. He moved dentistry patient parking to the doors of the school, and worked to standardize the preclinical and clinical grading rubric to make the evaluation of students much more objective.
Through it all, Reeves maintained an even temperament and his trademark subtle wit.
"He has a way of bringing humor to difficult situations, making them easier to bear,” Griggs said. “For instance, every time we get a set of new guidelines that may be difficult for some faculty to adjust to, we'll go to the deans and associates group (DAAG meeting), he'll make a joke about it and we'll all end up laughing.”
Reeves' record of achievement as dean will be difficult to match, yet easy for him to summarize.
"I wanted my legacy to be that we prepared some excellent dentists for the people of the state of Mississippi,” he said. “I think we've accomplished that.
"Our graduates can compete with anybody's graduates. I think as a general rule, they're the best graduates in the country.”
Upon retirement, Reeves has two immediate plans in mind: to “go from being an amateur grandbaby spoiler to a professional grandbaby spoiler” - something his twin granddaughters, Ava and Sofia, already have come to expect - and to build his own airplane, a project he's wanted to tackle since he returned from Iraq.
He said the things he'll miss most about the school are the people with whom he's worked, especially Triplett.
"Even though I've been here (at the SOD) forever, she's been here forever, plus several days,” he said with a wink. “Between the two of us, we can remember pretty much everything that's happened in this school. And that's a lot.
"Knowing a lot of history really helps you not repeat the things you shouldn't repeat.”
According to Triplett, it's a shared sentiment.
"I'm going to miss his reminiscing about how things used to be,” she said. “He was here as a student and as a resident. He and I were able to go back and talk about how things used to be in the school.
"There's not anybody here now I can do that with. I know I'll miss that.”