2007 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumni Award
Ernest J. Goodson ’75
Ernest Goodson ’75 had only a few weeks of college under his belt before he realized that his freshman year at Carolina was not the 13th grade. A star on the basketball court and in the classroom in high school — he led the conference in scoring and made excellent grades in his college prep courses — he realized early on he’d have to choose between excelling in sports or academics. He came to Carolina to follow in the footsteps of basketball pro Charlie Scott ’70, then returned home to Kannapolis to teach high school chemistry and coach basketball.
“I should have stuck with my plans,” said Ernest, who instead opted for academics and went on to dental school at UNC. “I’m sure Roy Williams is doing better financially than I am.”
Though known professionally as “Doctor” and not “Coach,” Ernest found a way to work with young people: He became an orthodontist. He shepherded many patients through their teen years, talking with them during their monthly visits to have their wires tightened about their dreams and how to get where they wanted to go. Often, they kept in touch for years. “It’s fun to watch them grow,” he said. “They’re much more interesting than adults.”
Immediately out of dental school, Ernest served a yearlong fellowship in dental surgery at the University of London, followed by a two-year residency in orthodontics at the University of California. Then he applied his lofty education to work as a public health dentist, treating underprivileged children in seven counties in eastern North Carolina. He opened an orthodontia practice in Fayetteville in 1986.
As soon as his sons were out of diapers, he began volunteering as a coach for basketball, soccer and T-ball at the Y and Fayetteville’s City League. Some years he coached two basketball teams a season. He tutored regularly at the local elementary school, opened his home to help students complete end-of-grade projects and led a Science Olympiad team. Now he serves on a committee to reduce in-school suspensions.
A couple of evenings a month for years, Ernest has volunteered his oral surgery skills to the Fayetteville Care Clinic, serving people who can’t afford dental care. Clinic Director Katheryn Jenifer cites the great need for this service. “He’s one of the dentists we can always count on to be here every month,” she said. “He’s very kind to all the patients.” Ernest shrugs it off: “I feel like I’ve done something to make life better for another person.”
Ernest has raised money for holiday meals for the homeless. He has served a seven-year term on the N.C. Health Service Board and the Cumberland County Alcohol Beverage Control Board, including two years as chair. As a board member of the Royal Bank of Canada, he supported an early child immunization program. A member of the UNC Board of Visitors and the Light on the Hill Society Scholarship Committee, he is also an adjunct professor in UNC’s department of dental ecology.
But his barber, David Brown, swears, “You’d never know he has the accomplishments and education he has. In the barber shop, he’s just a plain guy talking with the rest of us.”
Get Ernest in the barber’s chair, and he’s as outspoken as they come. He has been a customer in David’s barber shop for the 21 years he’s lived in Fayetteville. “He’s no politician,” David says. “He speaks his mind. He has a lot of knowledge, and he doesn’t mind imparting it. What you see is what you get.”
After more than 20 years in dentistry, Ernest enrolled in Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, completing his master’s in public administration in 2002. He has published a number of research papers, and currently is researching the role African-Americans have played in orthodontics.
His approach to life is to keep his mind open and his feet on the ground. What matters most to him is treating people with respect and honesty. “We’re all traveling the same path,” Ernest said. “We should help each other along the way. We’re all going to end up six feet under some day.”