Longtime Gallatin dentist Dr. Steve Mays is being remembered for his dedication not only to his patients and staff but also to helping those less fortunate across the county.
Mays died suddenly at his Hendersonville home Dec. 4. He was 63.
In addition to being a dentist for more than 30 years, Mays also volunteered with the Salvus Center and helped the Gallatin-based nonprofit launch a dental clinic to serve the working uninsured across Sumner County.
“You could not help but feel his passion and compassion for others, especially others who were less fortunate,” Salvus Center President and CEO Jennifer Flanagan said. “Dr. Mays, above all, made people feel like they were valued, and he treated everyone he met with dignity and respect.
“We really lost a fine gentleman, expert provider and a leader not just in the medical professional but in our community.”
‘He saw the best in everything’
Born in Paris, Tenn. in January of 1957, Mays grew up about 30 miles west in Martin, Tenn. where he was a letterman in three sports at Westview High School. He went on to graduate with top honors from the University of Tennessee Martin and the University of Tennessee Dental School. He then completed his dental residence while serving in the United States Air Force.
In 1986, Mays and his family moved to Middle Tennessee where he joined the Gallatin dental practice of Dr. James Patterson. The practice became Mays Dentistry after Patterson retired in the early 2000’s.
“Dr. Mays was just the employer that you wanted to work for,” office administrator Gracie Snyder recalled. “You knew he cared about his patients and you knew he was honest. That meant so much to everyone, and he was the same way all the time. What the patients saw is what we saw.”
Described by former patients and colleagues as a “brilliant mind” and “excellent” dentist, Mayes was also known from being lighthearted and always on time.
He was also a strong believer who would pray each morning with his staff for their safety and protection as well as for their patients.
“He saw the best in everything,” Snyder said. “He was the most uplifting person and he just always knew everything was going to work out.
“He was still just a young, healthy and energetic guy. We just never dreamed this would happen.”
In 2005, Mays was involved with the formation of the Salvus Center, a faith-based primary care health center for those in Sumner County who are working but do not have medical insurance. Patients pay a fee for their office visit based on a sliding scale determined by family income and the number of dependents in the home.
Shortly after the nonprofit opened its doors, doctors realized that many patients had a need for more than just medical treatment.
“I called Steve early on in the beginning to tell him that we had some patients who had really terrible dental care and needed some help,” retired Gallatin physician Dr. Ted Hill recalled. “Once he was aware of the need, we talked with some other dentists in the county and we decided to try to put together some kind of dental clinic associated with Salvus.
“He really was the first to begin that process of seeing people and he helped us recruit some other people as well.”
The dental clinic, which is now run by Hope Family Health, has seen more than 5,000 patients since it first opened nearly a decade ago, according to Flanagan.
Mays was also a strong financial supporter of the Salvus Center and helped increase awareness of the nonprofit throughout the community, she added. He would also regularly donate medical supplies when needed.
Despite maintaining a busy schedule, Hill said Mays always made sure to see Salvus dental clinic patients that were in need as soon as possible.
“He knew up front from the beginning… that he wasn’t going to get any pay from them, but that didn’t matter,” Hill recalled. “There would be times he would be in there with them for a long time, several hours sometimes when they had such terrible problems. He would be right there with them taking care of them until they got the problem fixed.
“It was never about the money.”
Outside of work, Mays was a lifelong golfer who played regularly at the Tennessee Grassland Golf and Country Club in Gallatin. He was also an avid cyclist who traveled more than 100 miles during his most recent trip to Tellico Plains.
In addition to serving on the Salvus Center board, Mays was a member of the Gallatin Noon Rotary Club. Him and his family were also members of First Baptist Church Hendersonville where he taught Sunday School. Previously, the Mays were longtime members of Gallatin First Baptist Church.
“He was just a strong believer, he loved the Lord, he loved people and he enjoyed life,” Snyder said. “That’s the kind of person he was.
“It makes you want to be a better person when you see someone that has lived such a great life and impacted so many others.”
A funeral service for Dr. Steve Mays was held Dec. 7 at First Baptist Church Hendersonville. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to First Baptist Church Hendersonville Children’s Department at 106 Bluegrass Commons Blvd., Hendersonville, Tenn. 37075.