Booth’s path to the Eastern Shore started on the outskirts of Aiken, South Carolina, where he was one of three boys born to Virginia Booth.
“She was a very strong lady with no personal, material wealth at all, but she was wise. And I was wise to listen to her. Always had the right answer and that was ‘yes, ma’am,’” Booth said. “I had a wise mama, an industrious mama, and fortunately a very strong mama.”
His mama’s strong influence was never more present than when she put Booth out and sent him, literally, in the direction of college, an event Booth calls “quite a day.”
“I was attempting to join the Navy with a couple of pals and my mama said ‘that won’t be the case,’ so in August of 1958 she put me out,” Booth said. “She put me out of the car in front of the Aiken County Hospital and I had zero money. She had nothing to give me. I got out of the car and mama looked at me and said ‘Auburn, Alabama’ is that way, call me when you get there.’”
So Booth stuck out his thumb and “never looked back.” He made it to Auburn that day and before the sun went down had a job working at the War Eagle Theater for 50 cents an hour while living with a cousin. Before long he had a job working as a dispatcher at the police department which allowed him to live in the jail and eventually moved on to working at the college infirmary, a room and board job.
He eventually graduated from Auburn University and moved onto the University of Alabama School of Dentistry from where he graduated in 1966. “For eight years, four years at Auburn, four years at Alabama, I never had to pay for a meal. I never had to pay for a bed. I graduated from both places with zero debt,” Booth said.
Upon graduation from dental school, Booth immediately went on active duty. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He volunteered for duty in Vietnam and was deployed to the Naval Support Activity, U.S. Naval Hospital DaNang. During 1967 he volunteered for duty as a Medical Civil Action Patrol dental officer with the 3rd Marine Division and the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces.
His service to his country earned him a Gold Parachutist Devise as well as the U.S. Navy Unit Commendation and the Vietnam Service Medal. He has been named the Mobile Bay Area Veteran of the Year and the Fairhope Veteran of the Year.
“I was discharged in 1969 and opened my practice, 48 years ago, in this very spot,” Booth said from his longtime practice in Spanish Fort, where he ended up after some wise advice from his father-in-law.
“I married a girl from Montrose and I had worked on Dauphin Island in the summer of 1964 for the medical school, so I was aware of the locale and the vicinity,” Booth said. “My father-in-law, he wanted to know what I was going to do with his daughter, where I was going to take her. And so we got to talking and so he said let’s go look up here at a little place called Spanish Fort.”
That was 50 years ago and he’s been there ever since. An active member and supporter of many veteran organizations, Booth was one of a core group instrumental in making Honor Flight South Alabama a success as well as securing funds and property for the creation of the Alabama State Veterans Cemetery on Alabama 225 in Spanish Fort.
“I could not be more proud than to be a veteran, but I have probably been blessed, more blessed, than most people,” he said. “So with regard to the success that has come my way, not just financial success, but all other aspects of my life, it’s only reasonable that I do what my mama said: Pay it forward and be thankful for those that have helped guided and counseled me for my formative years.
Booth pays it forward in many ways, but none more important to him than the Barry Lee Booth, DMD Family Fund at The Community Foundation of South Alabama. He uses the fund to grant scholarships to young adults beginning their path to higher education as a tribute to the impact his mother’s influence had on his life.
“It’s more or less what’s called The Virginia L. Booth Bootstrap Scholarship and it goes out to, generally, two to four kids in a graduating class who haven’t possibly excelled academically but they have motivation, they have community service and a need to have help in moving into the next step of whatever type situation they want to be in,” Booth said.
“What I do is very small compared to people with greater means and greater influence, but still, it fills the space of maybe, you know, being a part of something bigger than yourself,” Booth said. “It’s a great sense of satisfaction to do this in honor of my mama.”