When Dr. Nancy Gannaway was a little girl, she was told that women couldn’t be dentists, especially black women.
“She made it up in her mind right then that was what she was going to do,” said Susan Harrison-Bailey, one of Gannaway’s daughters. “That spirit carried her through the rest of her life.”
Gannaway was the first African American female dentist in Winston-Salem, the Winston-Salem Journal reported in November 1955.
Gannaway died Jan. 9 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease at her home in Winston-Salem, Bailey said. Gannaway was 90.
During her career, Gannaway treated thousands of patients, her daughter said. Gannaway initially had an office in the Bruce Building on Sixth Street and Patterson Avenue.
In 1965, Gannaway and her husband built a dental office that was connected to their home on New Walkertown Road, according to her biography.
A native of Trinity, Gannaway graduated in 1954 with a dental degree from Howard University in Washington. She had earlier earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from Shaw University in Raleigh.
Gannaway, who interned at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Washington, began her dental career in Winston-Salem.
Winston-Salem State University’s School of Health Sciences honored Gannaway as one of eight healthcare legends of East Winston in October 2019.
Gannaway was the first African American president of the Winston-Salem chapter of Altrusa International, a national club for business and professional women, WSSU said on its website. She also led the Old North State Dental Society where she mentored future generations of African American dentists in North Carolina.
In an interview with the Winston-Salem Chronicle in 2005 when she was 75, Gannaway said she decided to continue working as a dentist after more than 50 years of service.
“I had no idea I was going to keep going this long,” Gannaway said.
Gannaway retired in 2011 after 57 years of practicing dentistry, according to her biography.
Dr. William Warren, a dentist who also works on New Walkertown Road, described Gannaway as a community leader and a trailblazer.
“She was an example to all African American female business people,” Warren said. “She was a pioneer.”