Fort Worth dentist retires at age 90

June 15th, 2008
Friends, family and former patents gather at a May 17, 2008 birthday party for Cochran at Meadowbrook United Methodist Church. Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Ralph Lauer

Friends, family and former patients gather at a May 17, 2008 birthday party for Cochran at Meadowbrook United Methodist Church. Photo: Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Ralph Lauer

In summer 2008, the retirement of Dr. Irad Cochran Jr. ’42 just happened to coincide with his 90th birthday.

After 66 years of caring for patients, Texas’ oldest practicing dentist decided the time was right for retirement. On his last day of practice in Fort Worth, Texas, Cochran ended the day in a particularly meaningful way. Bill Beard, his last patient, was the son of Steve Beard, his first patient. In some families, he’s treated three generations.

He also has guided many new dentists in the Fort Worth District Dental Society, one of which was Dr. Bill Wathen, who is now an associate professor of general dentistry at Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry.

“Dr. Cochran is among the finest dentists, in his technical abilities and as a gifted clinician,” Wathen says. “He is so good, so kind with patients, and he has impeccable technique.”

In Wathen’s early-practice days, the Fort Worth dental society “adopted” those dentists – Wathen included – who had been in the military. “They took us in as their kids,” Wathen says. “We all benefited from Irad Cochran and his generation. We thought he walked on water.”

Many of those who looked up to Cochran – 200 friends, family and former patients – gathered on May 17, 2008, at Meadowbrook United Methodist Church in Fort Worth to celebrate his birthday and 66-year career. Cochran was honored with a slide show of his life, a plaque from his church and praise from loved ones.

Despite several intervening decades, Cochran says he remembers many aspects of his dental education as though they were yesterday. For one thing, clinic technology changed significantly while Cochran was a dental student. When he started at the college, the clinic used foot pedal drills, but his class was one of the first to be able to use the new belt-driven electric drills.

Cochran says his favorite professors were oral surgery professor Dr. Welden E. Bell ’34 and oral prosthetics professor Dr. Philip Knutzen ’28.

“He was a tough old bird, and everyone disliked him because he was hard,” Cochran says of Knutzen, “but he gave me an excellent background in crown and bridge.”

When Cochran was a student, Baylor College of Medicine was still located in Dallas, and dental students took their basic science courses with the medical students. Cochran lived in a fraternity house a few blocks away on Gaston Avenue and walked to class every day.

After graduating in 1942, Cochran started work at his father’s dental practice in Fort Worth. Six months later, he reported for duty in the Navy and provided dental care for the men of the USS Oregon. He later served at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi and completed 24 years in the Navy Reserves.

In 1946 Cochran opened his own practice in Fort Worth. Since that time, he says, his career has outlasted patients, technology and office space.

“I started in the Medical Arts Building in downtown Fort Worth, but they imploded that one,” Cochran says. “So I moved to the doctor’s building by Harris Hospital, and they blew that one up, too.”

Eventually Cochran moved to the Medical Tower in the hospital district, his final office location.

“Aside from that one, everywhere I moved, they blew up. Well, except for the building my dad practiced in on Sylvania Avenue; it’s still there,” Cochran says.

As his office location changed over time, so did dental technology. Cochran says implants and high-speed drills were the greatest changes he saw during in his career.

“I still have some instruments that I’m trying to get rid of, but no one knows anything about them,” he says of his pneumatic mallets, which were used to tap gold foil into cavities as filling.

Cochran’s career includes leadership in several professional organizations. He served as president of the Southwest Prosthodontic Society, the Fort Worth dental society and the Southwest Academy of Restorative Dentistry. He also was a member of the Texas Gnathological Society, a study group that occasionally met at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

To Cochran, however, the highlight of his six and a half decades in dentistry has been his patients.

“I’ve served the fine citizens of Fort Worth,” he says. “I’ve had the most wonderful career.”


— Carolyn Cox