The Unbelievable Life of Dr. John Savage on the Choctawhatchee River

Faces: Dr. John Savage
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 9:20 PM CDT
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EBRO, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - What if you heard about an Antarctic exploring politician that moved to the river swamps of Ebro to open a backwoods dental office? Sounds far out there, doesn’t it? But that’s the life of Dr. John Savage, one of the area’s most well-known dentists.

You’ll find Dr. Savage down a quaint country road in Ebro. His dental office, formerly a fish camp, sits on the Choctawhatchee River but is now closed after he retired in 2022.

“The most isolated dental office in Florida,” Dr. Savage said. “I miss it. I really do.”

He had to close up shop after eye issues, specifically age-related macular degeneration, made dental work difficult. You can still find all his old equipment sitting in the one operating room operation. The chair and dental utensils he used are still in their place where he treated hundreds of patients for more than 30 years.

“I used to put people on a boat and bring them to the steps.”

Countless stories of people traveling hundreds and thousands of miles to be treated by Dr. Savage in the middle of nowhere.

“I miss the relationships that I had with patients,” Dr. Savage said. “I love to work.”

Dr. Savage’s dental career on the Choctawhatchee River started later in his career. Before treating folks next to the cypress stumps on the river bank, he was on the stump in Georgia.

“I was first elected to the state legislature in 1969.”

He represented multiple districts in the Atlanta area. He even ran for Lt. Governor as a Republican; a long shot in Georgia in the 1960′s.

“I got to be 50 and I said I’m done and said I am going home.”

That’s exactly what he did. He packed up his things and moved to the river swamps to start his own practice. Trading in a life of climbing the political ranks for a white picket fence.

“And I thought, Johnny... You’re going to leave all of this and come back to the river swamps of Northwest Florida. I said you’ve done a lot of amazing and interesting things in your life, but that may be the craziest thing you’ve ever done.”

The craziest thing? Well, some would beg to differ. Before his days as a politician, after growing up right on the Choctawhatchee River banks in the middle of nowhere, he joined the U.S. Navy as an opportunity to go everywhere.

However, that didn’t go as planned. At least at first.

“Do you know where they sent me? The naval aerostation in Jacksonville.”

That’s when he wrote a letter to the Commandant of the Navy Dental Corps, asking him to let him be stationed out of his home state and see the world. And he got his wish, seeing a world never seen.

“He pointed at me in the face and said do you know what I have for you? I said no sir I don’t. He said I have emergency dispatch orders for the South Pole for you.”

The Navy sent him to Antarctica. Serving as a dentist on multiple expeditions to uncharted territories.

“I think the commandant of the navy dental corps was mad about my letter and he was really going to show me, but he gave me the most exciting, wonderful experience of my life.”

He even left his mark on the continent.

“There’s the Savage Glacier because I was the first person to ever set foot on it. So they named it after me.”

Other than his days as an explorer, he has a plethora of stories to tell.

Including getting convinced to fight an area champion boxer in Samson, Alabama.

“I was between the second and the third rope and he was on top of it beating me in the back of the head. And Steve the damndest miracle that ever happened in my life, happened. I did that and I caught that guy just right and stunned him.”

With plenty of stories from his days at the Ebro dental office.

“The water was about three and a half feet high in this dental office.”

Including a time where a car crashed into the river, and Dr. Savage stopped his procedure, jumped in the Choctawhatchee River and saved the man.

But in a life that took him all over the world, getting elected in the poorest and riches districts in Atlanta, to traveling to the ends of the earth. Nothing ever beat home.

“You don’t know how blessed I’ve been to be in the place that I love as much as I do in this part of the world.”

A few things are certain in life, time keeps ticking and the years go by.

“I’m lucky to be 89 and still be as active as I am. It won’t be too much longer.”

But he’s not stopping for now. You can find him dancing at local restaurants multiple times a week, doing chin-ups on a bar between to cypress trees next to the river and riding his bike all over the area.

“I have loved every minute of it.”

There’s also a book written about Dr. Savages life called ‘Johnny and Jazzbo’ by Kathryn J. Hardy. You can find it here.