By Sherrie Norris
The unexpected death of longtime local dentist, Robert “Lee” Warren, on Friday, March 17, has saddened the High Country. As his obituary so aptly describes, “The world has lost a true gentleman, renowned dentist, beloved husband and loving father.”
As news of Warren’s death began to circulate over the weekend, tributes began pouring into the family via phone calls, texts, social media and personal visits.
Grateful they are for the overwhelming support they are receiving, said Warren’s daughter, Debin, on behalf of her mother and siblings, as she shared with High Country Press on Sunday that her “sweet daddy” has left a lasting legacy in the High Country.
“This is very hard for all of us,” she said. “I loved him dearly and was such a daddy’s girl. He was such a special man to so many people. And he loved Watauga County.”
And, there’s no doubt that Watauga County loved Lee Warren in return.
Next to his family, perhaps Vanessa Minton new him like few others, and shared. “Some things are hard to grasp. It is with great sadness that Dr. Lee Warren is no longer with us, but I know where he resides. Heaven is having a glorious celebration as they welcomed this kind, precious man into the presence of his Lord and savior. He’s laughing and hugging on all those he has not seen in a while and walking pain- free with Ava (his four-legged companion) by his side!”
Minton said she knew how much Warren loved his family —“fiercely” —and with all his heart!
“I’ve been so blessed to work alongside this gentle, kind and compassionate friend for 40-some years,” Minton added. “So many memories, shared laughter and tears. We prayed together and cried together. He was my dear friend who has stood in the gap for me. I will miss him and love him with all my heart. I am thankful to Dr. Warren for being a huge part of my life. Heaven is surely sweeter.”
Tina Watson, owner of Blue Ridge Diner, where he ate frequently, shared that she and her staff loved Warren like family — and they felt certain that he loved them, too.
“There were days when we knew he didn’t feel well, he dealt with severe back pain, but he still came in to eat with us, and would always stay around to talk after he finished his meal,” Watson said. “He was such a sweet, pleasant person. He loved my mom’s desserts, and I would always send some home with him. We loved sitting and talking with him when we could and we will definitely miss him.”
The Warren family shared with HCP about the man behind the dental chair. It was no secret that he loved his family, and as his wife, Debbie, said, “Especially his kids. He was so proud of them.”
And he loved cars, clothes and the Tarheels, representing his alma mater. It was easy to recognize the Warren family vehicles on the road, as their personalized license tags began with UNC-and then, their initials. He loved his “furry friend” Ava, that passed away six months ago.
He loved to eat, too, his family added. “All events had to center around a good meal — and he always made sure no one left his house hungry.”
Warren’s family said he valued education. “He was such a strong supporter for the students during the time (16 years) he served on the Watauga County Board of Education.”
And for the lengthy dental career for which he was best known, they described him as an artist at his craft. “He believed in providing the best possible treatment for his patients.”
Warren retired from this career on December 31, 2019, at which time his older daughter, Blaire, the first to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a dentist, bought his practice and took it over January 1, 2020. All three of the Warren children pursued dental careers, much to their father’s delight — and primarily at UNC. Just as their father had done, Blaire and Robert completed dental school. Robert became a a pediatric dentist with his own dental corporation. Debin went through the dental hygiene program at East Tennessee State University initially, before obtaining her masters in dental hygiene education at UNC. Debin works as a Director of Operations for Burlington-based North State Dental Partners.
“We loved our dad to the moon and back, and we hope we made him happy.” Debin concluded.
The obituary of Robert “Lee” Warren, provided by Austin & Barnes Funeral Funeral Home
Dr. Robert Lee Warren “Lee” was born on July 20, 1943 and remained in Watauga County for 79 years, where he lived a full life dedicated to his family, community and dentistry.
Dr. Warren was a legend in dentistry for 47 years. He opened his general practice doors in 1972 and dedicated his life to providing high-quality care to the people of Boone and surrounding communities. Dr. Warren’s professional accomplishments are numerous. He served as an adjunct faculty member at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry for 25 years, served on the Board of Directors of the Dental Alumni Association, and as Grand Master of the Graduate Chapter of Delta Sigma Delta. He was a proud alumnus of the Pankey Institute, a Fellow of the International College of Dentists, and a Master in the Academy of General Dentistry. Dr. Warren was also a founding member and past president of the Tar Heel Dental Study Club and held membership with several dental organizations. It is noteworthy to mention his 2018 Dental Alumni Association Distinguish Service Award for his service to the dental profession. He donated time charitably to UNC and UNC Adams School of Dentistry, a place that gave him so much throughout the years.
Not only did Dr. Warren have a renowned professional life, he also served his community with pride. He served on the Appalachian State University Chancellor’s Committee from 1982-1992 and was elected to the Watauga County Board of Education for 16 years from 1998-2014 where he served as Chair or Vice Chair for eight years. Dr. Warren also served on the Watauga Committee of 100 for 10 years.
Left with years of special memories are his beloved wife, Deborah Andrews Warren of Boone; children Dr. Blaire Warren Gordon (Grayson) of Boone, Debin Lea Warren of Durham, and Dr. Robert Lee Warren, II of Boone; sister Jean Warren Wilson of Abingdon, VA; nephews Barry Len Warren (Becky) of Holly Springs, Larry Dean Warren of Boone, and Joe Wilson (Gwen) of Abingdon, VA. He is survived by other family and friends, too numerous to list, but not forgotten.
Dr. Warren is now reunited with his parents, John Floyd, Maude Roark Warren and brother, Howard Len Warren, and his best “furry friend” Ava.
A celebration of Dr. Warren’s life will be held on Saturday, March 25 at Liberty Grove Baptist Church (3289 Liberty Grove Church Rd, Fleetwood, NC). Visitation will be from 2:00-4:00 p.m. and the Celebration of Life service will follow. The family asks, in lieu of flowers and meals, you consider donating to the Forest Grove Cemetery Fund, PO Box 40, Vilas, NC 28692 or the Dr. R. Lee Warren Scholarship Fund at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry. Checks can be made out to
‘Dental Foundation of North Carolina-Warren Scholarship’ and mailed to:
UNC Adams School of Dentistry
1090 First Dental Building
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7450
Online condolences may be shared at the website www.austinandbarnesfuneralhome.com
Austin & Barnes Funeral Home is serving the Warren family.
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