( 4 Votes )

Dr. DeNae Babbitt and Dr. Sam Babbitt. Photo courtesy of Sam BabbittAfter over 20 years of general practice, Dr. Sam Babbitt and his wife Dr. DeNae Babbitt have decided to leave their practice in Fork Union so that Sam can pursue another career in veterinary medicine. He will be leaving the Fork Union Animal Clinic for Maryland at the end of the year to become certified in animal dentistry. DeNae will stay on until spring of 2014.
Many were stunned to hear of their leaving, particularly since they had been so much a part of the Fork Union community and at one time were the only vets in rural Fluvanna County. Sam has also been on the Planning Commission for many years and in that time he had seen many changes in the county and in veterinary medicine.
They started the practice in February of 1992. Sam said the biggest difference in Fluvanna has been the growth of Lake Monticello and the numerous businesses that have sprung up around the lake. It was much more of a rural existence back then. He recalled shopping at E.W. Thomas, the Fork Union IGA or having to drive to Charlottesville for groceries. There were only a few restaurants back in those days. Everyone shopped the local merchants and went to town once a month for a shopping day.
“Fluvanna folks are just as nice and wonderful as always but we have been sad to see many of our friends and some of the most colorful members of the community pass away over the last 22 years. I should write a book about the people I have met here,” Sam said.
When they first opened their practice in the Fork Union Shopping Center they treated both large and small animals.
“We caused quite a stir a few times when we were too busy to make a farm call and the farmer brought a cow or goat or pig to the office there in the shopping center. Over the years it became more difficult to keep up our skills and equipment and drugs for the few large animals we saw. We changed to small animal only about 12 years ago.”
Sam explained his decision to give up his practice and specialize.
“Veterinary medicine has steadily progressed over the last 23 years since DeNae and I graduated from Virginia Tech. It is more technical, more digital, and more advanced than I would have ever thought. This field is indeed following the trend set by human medicine where specialists are becoming the norm. It almost has to be that way as technology progresses and medicine advances. It simply is not possible for everyone to be an expert on everything anymore,” said Sam. “I have had a growing interest in dentistry for the last ten years or so. I recognized that dental disease was the most common problem that we saw in our patients and it causes the greatest amount of chronic pain and illness; more than any other problem we treat. Our dental patients really suffer and many of our clients don’t even realize how much their pets are suffering until we treat them and they are suddenly acting much younger and happier. There is hardly anything that we can do as veterinarians that has the potential to improve the quality of our patients’ lives - and do so faster - than eliminating oral pain.” Sam said he soon realized some years ago that he needed to do a better job of educating himself on treating these problems and educating his clients as well. “When I graduated from veterinary school we received almost zero training on dental care and treatment and as a consequence, our patients were not receiving the best care possible. As my knowledge and skills advanced, I just wanted to know more. I have come to love treating these cases so much that I wanted to pursue this as a new career direction.”
Sam was born in South Carolina and raised as a military child, moving around to different areas until ending up in northern Virginia. Sam had always been an animal lover from a very early age and had always been fascinated by science and nature. It became his goal to be a veterinarian ever since he was ten or eleven years old. Eventually, he attended Virginia Tech where he met DeNae but they did not begin dating until after graduation.
DeNae was born in Nashville, Tennessee, but was raised in Waldorf, Maryland before going to the University of Maryland and then on to Virginia Tech for veterinary school. Both Sam and DeNae got their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine on the campus of Virginia Tech.
Sam reflected on what he would miss most about practicing here in Fluvanna County.
“The hardest thing about leaving here is we have a large number of friends and clients that we just love dearly. Leaving behind our clients will be tough. Many of our long-time clients are bringing in the third generation of pets that we have treated for them,” he said.
Sam, like many career changers nowadays, realizes if one door opens another has to close and he is prepared to greet his new future.
“We are in for a great adventure in Baltimore. Our kids are going to be exposed to more diverse cultures and people. My staff will tell you the number one thing I am looking forward to is never having to treat another diarrhea case. I hate diarrhea cases. I am counting the days,” he said, smiling.
He is not sure where their final destination will be once he is certified.
“We love Fluvanna and are planning on keeping a beautiful piece of property here that we could build a house on if we choose. I also love the warmth of the Deep South, being a South Carolina native. We will have to cross that bridge later,” he said.
DeNae is not planning on continuing her practice but has chosen to stay at home with their two children and focus on her ministry work. Sam said she is very excited about that prospect.
Sam has also served nearly 16 years on the Planning Commission.
“I joined the commission because I felt I had something to offer my community and cared very deeply for the future of Fluvanna. I see community service as a vital part of every person’s responsibility. I have served on too many boards and commissions to count. I am really grateful for the opportunity to serve and for the trust that our other community leaders have shown in me by my appointments,” he said. When asked what he thinks the most notable accomplishments were during his term, he added, “I have worked very hard during my term to protect the rural character of the county during periods of explosive growth. Balancing the needs of the county and property owners’ rights has been a primary goal of mine. The commission has changed during the time I have been serving. When I resigned this month I was the most senior member of the commission. The commission is a more cohesive group and more professional and better prepared to deal with the complex issues of planning. The commission has been instrumental in developing policies and guiding documents for future development here in Fluvanna.”
As they prepare to leave Fluvanna and say goodbye, Sam and DeNae have some parting thoughts.
“Fluvanna has been our home for a long time. We will miss our friends, clients and neighbors more that we can express. Our beautiful home and land has been a source of comfort and joy. We will miss the spectacular natural beauty here. The business that we worked so hard to build was really our first child. We are leaving it in good hands but will really miss our long-time staff, clients and patients,” he said.
Sam added, “We have some terrific doctors and staff at Fork Union Animal Clinic. I hope that our clients and friends will come in and meet the other doctors if they have not done so already. They work very hard to do the best for our patients. I am comfortable that they will carry on the tradition that we built at Fork Union.” Dr. Kendra Philman and Dr. Ashley Rethemeyer have already established themselves in the community and are already carrying on the work of the Babbitts.