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Reflections of a salesman

Dick Cantrell

Dick Cantrell, the college's
Patterson Dental Supply
salesperson of more than
20 years, is set to retire
this spring.

Photos by Steven Doll

Cantrell has seen a lot at the dental school from his vantage point in the basement lunchroom. He shares some highlights, gleaned from two decades.

This longtime fixture came to the college as a dental sales rookie. When asked if he would assume the role of Patterson Dental Supply representative at Baylor College of Dentistry, he simply said he’d ‘give it a try.’ Pretty soon, he found he liked it here and decided to stay. To say he spent more time here than originally intended is a bit of an understatement.

That was 20 years ago.

For a man who has been at Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry long enough to be called mistakenly “Mr. Patterson,” life for Dick Cantrell is about to change in a big way. Sometime this spring, he’ll trade his wood-paneled desk and customary suit and tie for moving boxes and real estate documents in efforts to sell his home and move closer to his children in Houston.

Dick Cantrell
Cantrell opts for a manual credit card imprinter and tri-color receipt to
process student orders.

Changes abound

Since Cantrell came to TAMHSC-BCD in 1991, a lot has changed — the dental school’s name, for starters.

“Years ago, we talked football,” Cantrell says of his relationship with dental students who were Aggie and Longhorn alumni. As a Baylor University grad himself, he and the students gave each other a hard time, especially when the UT and A&M university systems were vying over Baylor College of Dentistry. 

“I ended up spending more time here than I originally intended.
After a while, I felt like I was part of the family.”

—Dick Cantrell

Then the news broke.

“On Monday morning when I was here, some of the students said, ‘Do you know the college is under the A&M name?’”

Cantrell instantly had a retort.

“Well, you notice they kept the Baylor name,” he told them. “That’s to keep credibility.” It was all in good fun.

The surroundings, too, have changed. Cantrell started selling student dental supplies in the area that now houses the Sim Lab, but perhaps his favorite location was along the wall on the opposite side of the basement from where he now sits, where he could see the atrium, and if he was lucky, the weather outside. 

Perhaps the only thing about Cantrell that has changed over the years is the age printed on his driver’s license.

“I’ve gotten older and the students have gotten younger,” he reflects.

Lunch-hour sales

For several hours every Tuesday and Thursday, when Cantrell isn’t filling orders for his 55 private practice clients, he can be found from his vantage point in the basement lunchroom, diligently filling out tri-color receipts with a manual credit card imprinter and jotting down an order list in his spiral notebook.

Some days are quiet, but other times — like when students start new lab assignments or projects — are downright busy.

“Dick Cantrell is on a first-name basis with the world.”

—Dr. Brent Hutson

With the low drone of lunchroom banter and the ‘pang pang’ of dental students playing table tennis in the background, it’s common to find Cantrell deciphering student requests, no matter how obscure. One student rattles off a product description with long numbers and isn’t really sure of its name. Of course, Cantrell figures out the item she has in mind.

Another student asks about Cantrell’s accepted payment methods. He has a common response, and veteran customers are likely familiar with this particular quip. 

“Oh anything, really,” he’ll say nonchalantly. “You know — cash, check, credit card, firstborn child.”

First-name basis

Cantrell is on a first-name basis with many of his dental student customers. The average onlooker wouldn’t be able to tell whether he just knows the students as repeat customers or catches a glimpse of their TAMHSC-BCD nametag or credit card contact information, the interaction is that natural.

While Cantrell says he likes his desk’s location because it allows him the opportunity to visit with students, over the years, he’s seen D3s and D4s break for lunch less and less.

“I used to have more of an exposure to students,” Cantrell says. “It seems like the upperclassmen don’t have as much time to visit.”

Some former students that Cantrell knows on a first-name basis are now faculty members. Dr. Stephen Griffin, associate professor and executive director of clinics for clinical affairs, says he doesn’t remember a time when Cantrell wasn’t at TAMHSC-BCD.

He describes Cantrell as “always friendly, always ready to help. The man would turn somersaults to help you out whether your needs are large or small.”

Dr. Brent Hutson, associate professor in restorative sciences and director of clinical fixed prosthodontics, has known Cantrell for 15 years and still orders supplies from him.

“Dick Cantrell is on a first-name basis with the world, but he always refers to me as 'Doc,’” Hutson says. “He never fails to ask about my family, even when we pass on the street. 

“He is a true gentleman and professional,” Hutson continues. “He is always meticulously dressed, courteous and efficient. He also offers the occasional joke, which is usually quite funny.”

Over the years, what was originally intended to be a minor sales role eventually morphed into a significant part of Cantrell’s career. He ended up spending several hours at the college on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, selling supplies to students, checking in with faculty on their equipment needs and making the rounds to the school’s seven stories of offices, where he would distribute literature and visit with people. It’s a role Cantrell says he’s going to miss.

“I ended up spending more time here than I originally intended,” he says. “After a while, I felt like I was part of the family.”

Dick Cantrell
In addition to his role as sales representative at the college, Cantrell also handles order for 55 private
patient clinicians.