By Emily Williams
This month, Dr. John Jayne is jetting off to the British Isles with his son, daughter and son-in-law, venturing through Dublin, Ireland, and Manchester, England, on the way to Wales.
A retired orthodontist who lives in Greystone, Jayne has made the trip before to see his great-grandfather’s gravestone in Pontypool, in southern Wales.
Though the sites will be familiar to him, his son, Chris, has never been before.
“At 85 years old, I may not get around as easily, but it’s the one thing I’ve wanted to do again before I leave this earth,” Jayne said.
The first one to note that he’s lived a very full life. Jayne has been retired for about 20 years from his profession as an orthodontist. He left a legacy in his wake not only through his regular customers, but also by using his skills to serve those in need.
Jayne got the idea of pursuing dentistry from his father and attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham Dental School in 1957.
“My dad wanted my older brother to be a physician. This was in the 1930s, and possibly due to some dental procedures he was having done at the time, he wanted me to be a dentist,” Jayne said.
Jayne finished off his education while in the Navy, which had a dental program that paid active duty wages during a student’s final year of dental school.
“I am very appreciative of my service,” he said. “It taught me a lot about dentistry and it also helped me mature,” he said.
In the Navy, he spent one year in Key West and two years on an aircraft carrier, choosing to stay for a year longer than required. Then Jayne returned to Birmingham.
He eventually bought a practice in Ensley that was in desperate need of a dentist, and he spent six years there.
“I noticed a change as the demographic in the area shifted. Business would increase when the steel workers signed their new contracts, and when that dropped is when business went down,” he said.
A Love of Work
Dentistry started to become less exciting to him as the years went on, but Jayne said he remained in the practice for three reasons: his wife, his three children and money.
“After a while I got to thinking, there has got to be something more exciting in dentistry,” he said.
So, after being out of school for nine years, he enrolled in a graduate program in 1966 to pursue orthodontics. After graduation he sought out a place to practice and landed on Vestavia Hills.
“At that time, I was the orthodontist farthest from downtown Birmingham,” he said.
For an additional 14 years after his active duty service in the Navy, Jayne remained in the Army Reserves. He left the service after his first wife died to focus on his children.
Jayne said he has been grateful for his time in the Navy and the lessons it taught him about service to others, lessons he emulated throughout his career.
“Dentistry is a wonderful profession,” he said. “Orthodontics is more challenging, more interesting.”
When he began his practice, Jayne said that he could count the number of adult patients on his fingers. By the time he was nearing retirement, about 30 percent to 35 percent of his patients were adults – the eldest being in their 80s.
“It was an exciting time in life that gave me the opportunity to see people grow and develop and mature over the years,” he said.
During his career, Jayne treated three generations of patients and was constantly surprised by the number of patients who remembered him.
“It is such a special opportunity to see these patients grow as they change and develop,” he said. “You see a 10-year-old being a wallflower and in about eight to 10 years, they turn into absolutely beautiful people.”
One day when he was visiting UAB, he went by the school’s bookstore and crossed paths with two girls who put their arms around him and told him they were his former patients.
“They said, ‘We want to see if you can tell us our names without your chart,’” Jayne said.
Later on, when he was laying on a gurney in a hospital before a back surgery, the doctor performing his catheterization looked down at him and said, “You don’t know me, but you have treated my wife and two kids.” After that, Jayne said he immediately thought to himself, “I hope their teeth are still straight.”
Finding a Cause
As his practice on Montgomery Highway in Vestavia Hills thrived, Jayne found a way to give back one day at a meeting of the Optimist Club.
The speaker was Donald Acton, who ran the Boys and Girls Ranches of Alabama. The organization is sponsored by the Alabama Sheriff’s Association and offers residential homes for Alabama’s needy, neglected or abused school-age children.
“There was a slideshow, and as I sat and looked at his kids, I said, there’s a way I can help this organization out,” he said.
Following the meeting, Jayne reached out to Acton and told him, “If there is a way you can get some kids to Vestavia, I can manage to get some dentists together to help with their dental care.”
Jayne then called his colleagues who were operating in Homewood, Vestavia Hills and Bluff Park, and he asked them whether they would be able to take on one or two of the children from the ranch.
The group secured a van that could bring the kids to the offices from Selma, and the rest was history.
Over the course of his career, Jayne estimated that he helped about 3,500 children from the ranch and, later on, Big Oak Ranch.
“And I never had a dentist turn me down,” he said.
Whether they were his everyday patients or those he treated free of charge, Jayne said he was delighted every day to see how changing a person’s smile enhanced their self-confidence.
“I always say, with a clean face, nice smile and shined shoes, you can get many doors open in life,” he said.
When it came time to retire from his practice, Jayne said he made a deal with the doctors who bought it that he could take his grandchildren in for treatment.
“What I didn’t tell them was that I had 12,” he said, adding that all of them needed braces, save a few who just used retainers.
Little did the doctors know, Jayne’s family was a veritable Brady Bunch. Both having lost their first spouses, Jayne and his late second wife, Claudia, combined their familiesHe had children with his first wife, which incorporated five children. Now there also are grandchildren as well as seven great-grandchildren, with one on the way.
Whether in family life, work life or community service, Jayne said he has had no regrets.
“One of my dental friends asked me the other day, ‘If you had to do it all over again, would you?’ And I said yes. Maybe a little bit differently, but yes.”