Interview by Alison Johnson
At first glance, McKinley L. Price’s two jobs seem nothing alike: working as a dentist and serving as mayor of Newport News, a city of more than 180,000 people. But for Price, a full-time dentist since 1977 and mayor since 2010, the common ground is helping people. It’s the same theme that has woven through his many leadership positions and accomplishments since his childhood in the city he now heads. These days, Price juggles seeing patients four days a week with a packed fifth day devoted to his political life. How does he do it? Lots of planning—and a healthy lifestyle that helps him keep up the pace.
When Price was eight years old, he found his career role model. That man, the late Dr. C. Waldo Scott, was the surgeon who removed the young boy’s appendix, as well as a local civil rights pioneer. Price also was best friends with Scott’s son and, as time would tell, would go on to marry that best friend’s little sister.
Price was set on joining the medical profession, but he saw how often work pulled his future father-in-law away from his family. Scott was the person who suggested dentistry as a way to help patients but keep more regular hours. Ultimately, Price’s chosen profession has given him time to tackle a wide range of community improvement efforts, which include co-founding three prominent organizations: An Achievable Dream Academy, the Hampton Roads Chapter of 100 Black Men of America and People to People, a group that brings people of different races, backgrounds and opinions together for discussions on issues ranging from education to gang prevention.
Price’s medical and political duties have long overlapped. He was in the middle of an eight-year appointment to the Newport News School Board, for example, when the Peninsula Dental Society elected him its first African-American president in 1989. So when supporters urged him to run for mayor in 2010, Price believed he could handle the juggle—not that it’s always easy. “The problem comes if something important pops up that isn’t booked in advance on my schedule,” he says. “That’s when I have to reschedule patients. I don’t like to do it, so luckily it’s not an issue very often.”
Price generally works in his Newport News dental office every day but Tuesday, which is full of meetings and other city duties. Once a month, he schedules only a half-day of patients so he can attend meetings. He also adjusts his agenda for special events, such as President Barack Obama’s October visit to Langley Air Force Base, which happened to fall on a Wednesday. That day, Price got to pose for a picture with Obama and deliver a light-hearted plug for his city. “I think I said, ‘Next time hopefully you’ll come to Newport News and not Hampton,’” he says, laughing.
On the days he’s not at city headquarters, Price keeps in touch with officials as needed via e-mail and cell phone. “I can be available to people and do a lot of business that way,” he says. “Technology really helps.” Yet Price, whose mayoral term runs through 2014, does feel a need to separate his two jobs at times. “We try not to have any politics in my office, because that can really eat up time,” he says. “When I’m there, I’m a doctor and not the mayor. If people have political concerns, I ask them to schedule a time to talk through the mayor’s office. I just feel like patients deserve my full attention as a doctor.”
IN HIS WORDS
The No. 1 reason I decided to run for mayor was… I was encouraged by friends and associates to run since they felt my community involvement was significant and I was well known in the community.
I am able to balance my roles as a politician and a dentist… because of technology and great staff in both my dental office and the City Clerk’s Office.
The best part about practicing dentistry is… the gratification of helping people look better, get out of pain and improve their dental health.
The biggest difference between practicing politics and practicing dentistry is… in politics your actions help the masses, where in dentistry your help is one-on-one. Politics is more democratic, where dentistry is autocratic.
I believe the top three health concerns in Newport News are… asthma, diabetes and obesity. That’s my perception, not based on data analysis. I believe we can address asthma by improving the environment and housing conditions, which are ongoing efforts in the city. With obesity, we’re working with the schools and encouraging more physical education, team sports and outdoor activities.The local dental society has worked to reduce the amount of sodas available in cafeterias. Fighting obesity, I believe, also will help us tremendously in fighting diabetes.
Two tremendous assets on local health scene are… the Level II Trauma Center in Newport News (Riverside Regional Medical Center) and a community free clinic.
Something that few people know about me is… I am very handy around the house with fixing things, painting and repairing. I learned so much from my dad. I had perfect attendance in high school. I rarely get sick.
Personally, I stay healthy by… eating right (no red meat in 26 years), exercise, yoga and a
The most interesting thing I’ve done as mayor so far is… I’d say all the people I’ve gotten to meet and tours of places I wouldn’t be able to go otherwise, like the shipyard and military facilities. There are some really fascinating things going on here.
Mayor of Newport News and full-time dentist
Graduated from Huntington High School; bachelor’s degree in biology from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University); Doctor of Dental Surgery from Howard University College of Dentistry; general anesthesia residency at Provident Hospital in Baltimore, Md.
Wife Valerie Scott Price, a retired educator and owner of an educational and developmental consulting service for parents; son McKinley L. Price II, D.D.S., an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in New York; and daughter Marcia S. Price, who holds a master’s degree in religious studies from Howard’s School of Divinity.
Favorite FREE-TIME ACTIVITY
Playing tennis, the sport that earned him a college scholarship