This story was published in the winter 2020-21 issue of 12th & Marshall. You can find the current and past issues online.
For Paul G. Brown, M’82, there’s nothing like cutting a dovetail while listening to a little Sinatra.
“It is so relaxing,” he says. “It brings me so much calm.” A far cry from his 35 years as a family physician in Marion, Virginia, where the demands of caring for his patients left him little time to catch his breath.
“There is this saying in family medicine that the door has to hit the patient on the behind every 15 minutes to make a living,” he says with a chuckle. “It is high intensity.”
Paul G. Brown, M’82. Photography by Dan Mirolli
After retiring in May 2020 from Smyth County Family Physicians, Brown has been adjusting to a more serene lifestyle as he spends much of his time in the workshop behind his Marion home creating beautiful reproductions of Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture.
“I learned the love of working wood from my father,” says Brown, who grew up in Mechanicsville, Virginia. “I loved being in the shop with him.”
His father would buy woodworking magazines and together they would tinker. Brown made his first piece – a walnut hurricane lamp – for his mother in 1976.
The demands of college and medical school kept him from devoting too much time to his newfound craft. Brown graduated from Hampden-Sydney in 1978 with a chemistry degree before starting medical school. When he completed his internship and residency in family medicine at Roanoke Memorial Hospital in 1985, he moved to Marion to take over at Smyth County Family Physicians for the retiring Charles G. Thompson, M’49, who has now passed away.
He never felt the urge to practice anywhere else.
“To be able to create something that is so beautiful is a magnificent thing. I feel so incredibly blessed." Photography by Dan Mirolli
“It seemed like the place I was meant to be,” Brown says. “It was a great place to raise our children, and we love the mountains. I was needed here.”
He found great joy in treating patients from infancy to old age.
“It is hard to take care of someone for 35 years and not become their friend,” says Brown, who has two sons and two grandchildren.
He continues to be a vital part of the community, practicing medicine five to seven days a month at the urgent care clinic in Abingdon. But his passion these days is woodworking. He began devoting more time to it around 2005 when he watched a DVD on cutting dovetail joints by hand. The teacher, it turned out, lived just two hours away.
Brown has been a student of Lonnie Bird’s School of Fine Woodworking in Dandridge, Tennessee, ever since. He has built dozens of pieces, including dressers, tables, chairs and chests. His favorite is a Charleston double chest, crafted after the original that is housed in a Colonial Williamsburg museum. The piece took Brown more than a year to complete.
“Every piece is different,” Brown says. “There’s this magic to wood. To see something as simple as a dovetail come together flawlessly, or to carve something like butter ... is incredibly satisfying.”
While he keeps a few of the pieces, he gives most to family and friends as gifts.
“To be able to create something that is so beautiful is a magnificent thing,” he says. “I feel so incredibly blessed.”