Beaufort News

Singleton: Beaufort father and daughter practice dentistry together

Dr. Gene Grace stands for a portrait with his daughter, Dr. Katherine Hefner, behind Aesthetic Dentistry, the Beaufort practice where they work together, on Nov. 9.
Dr. Gene Grace stands for a portrait with his daughter, Dr. Katherine Hefner, behind Aesthetic Dentistry, the Beaufort practice where they work together, on Nov. 9.

For Beaufort's Dr. Katherine Grace Hefner, practicing dentistry is a family affair.

Her father, Dr. Gene Grace, has practiced in Beaufort for the past 42 years. Hefner joined the practice -- Aesthetic Dentistry -- 12 years ago.

There's an older sign of family ties in their shared office -- a medical hutch that held the instruments of Gene Grace's uncle, an orthodontist in the early '50s and '60s who practiced in Charleston. It serves as a reminder of his role in Gene Grace's decision to become a dentist.

Hefner is the younger of two daughters born to Grace and the former Beth Purvis, a local politician for 15 years who served on Beaufort County Council for nine years, two of them as vice chairman. Sister Chilton Simmons is a local attorney, magistrate judge and a mother of three.

Hefner, 38, said she always knew she wanted to be in the medical field. She was born in Beaufort and grew up there. She shadowed an orthopedic surgeon when she was in high school.

But she also knew she wanted to be married and have children and so she decided surgery wasn't the right fit for her.

She attended the University of North Carolina and MUSC College of Dental Medicine where she graduated with honors.

She discovered that dentistry wasn't the only thing in her DNA.

She had no doubt she would return to the Lowcountry.

"Beaufort is an amazing place. Once Lowcountry water gets in your blood, you're hooked," she said during an interview recently in her office.

"Not only that, Beaufort is safe for our kids. We want them to grow up near the water as I did," she said.

One more thing drew her back -- love.

When she returned in 2003, she married Ashley Hefner, whom she met at Beaufort Academy when she was in the 4th grade.

Their three boys -- Vann, 9, Ford, 7, and Bray, 2 -- now attend school there.

Her husband is an architectural designer who also paints on the side.

Initially, Hefner filled in at her dad's office when an assistant took a break.

Though her dad didn't push her to join the practice, she did because it allowed her to make her own schedule and, more importantly, to make time for her family.

"I think every parent's dream is to have their child in business with them, and the fact that we have never had a cross word with each other speaks volumes," said Grace.

Father and daughter share a similar personality, "We are both efficient and enjoy juggling a lot of things at one time."

They say they work well together and often bounce treatment ideas off one another. They cover for one another when necessary.

Some of her patients think she looks more like a fresh-faced college student than a dentist. One of them refers to her as "America's Next Top Model," a label the followed Hefner's work as a fashion model at a benefit for Friends of Caroline Hospice.

She is involved in the community in other ways.

She has been a volunteer with United Way, Hope Haven and Caroline Hospice, among other. She also serves as the president of the Parents' Association and on the Board of Directors at Beaufort Academy.

"When I go to the store, I stop in every aisle because I know everyone," she said, "even the Lowcountry transplants. When you're here, you're here."

And that makes everyone seem like family.