Who We Are: John Warner: mayor, dentist, volunteer and tooth fairy
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE – John Warner has many titles.
He is Dr. Warner, a small-town dentist who good-naturedly promises a patient that he won’t have to “torture” him so much on his next visit.
He is a husband, father, neighbor, friend and, on special occasions, the tooth fairy.
He is also Mayor Warner, the amiable patriarch of one of North America’s busiest ski resort communities.
Warner took the top job in Breckenridge in 2008, running unopposed at the urging of acquaintances and fellow town council members. Unassuming and soft-spoken (the town staff insists he wear a microphone at meetings so the audience can hear him) Warner was hesitant about the potentially “confrontational” nature of the position. Breckenridge, an involved community, tends to demand accountability from its elected officials. His three years in office, he said, have been an exercise in finding his voice and the leadership style that works for him.
“I think leading, at this point in time, it’s good to be a listener,” Warner said. “I have strong opinions, but I feel like the key when you’re on town council is to listen with an open mind and perhaps you may change your mind.”
That was the case a few years ago with the debate around defensible space. Warner said he went into the discussion believing citizens should be required to have perimeters around their homes where vegetation is treated, reduced or removed to create a wildfire barrier.
“The citizens put together a petition and said, ‘no, you’re wrong,'” Warner said. “I was dumfounded, but I realized if we came together, we all agreed defensible space was important. If we made it voluntary we at least moved forward. If you govern from top down without involving the public, you don’t get a lot of consensus.”
Though learning to appreciate the power of collaboration, Warner also remained committed to some of his most important goals for the community: inclusivity, sustainability and improved housing and childcare options.
When he was first elected to town council in 1998, he began to notice a shift in Breckenridge’s workforce demographic, from young students to migrant workers.
“I wanted to see our community become more inclusive and not threatening from a documented or undocumented resident standpoint,” Warner said.
He also wanted to see it make a commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship, and has consistently nurtured programs to reduce the town’s carbon footprint and encourage multi-modal transportation.
“Those are the things that have always been in my vision or set of objectives,” he said.
For the last few years, Warner has had to find a balance between his commitment to Breckenridge and the other loves in his life: his wife, Carre, with whom he enjoys traveling internationally; his dentistry practice, still housed in the same small, peaceful office where he first set up shop more than 30 years ago; and his volunteer work.
It was in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that Warner first began providing dentistry services to those in need. In the months after the storm, New Orleans reached out to a Denver organization, Global Dental Relief and Warner signed up, along with many others go help out.
“It was devastating,” Warner said of that first visit to New Orleans. “It was amazing how much damage had occurred.”
But in one trip he was hooked on what he now calls “voluntourism,” and he began making regular excursions further south, to Guatemala with the same organization.
“I get to volunteer and I get to see a beautiful country.”
His trips to Guatemala are brief, but intense. In May he and his team managed to see 540 kids in six days, not only pulling teeth, but restoring teeth and doing sealants and other work as needed, while hygienists provided dental care education.
“It’s a lot of dentistry,” Warner said of his last trip. He said he hopes to be able to travel to Nepal, India and Vietnam with Global Dental Relief on similar “voluntourism” trips.
Warner was born in Connecticut but spent his youth and college years in Colorado. It’s hard now to picture the quiet mayor and dentist as the “party boy” he says he was his first two years at the University of Colorado Boulder. But by his junior year he had straightened up, committed himself to school and was considering a future in medicine. Medical schools were beginning to consider him too when he took “a really weird job,” harvesting bone marrow from the recently deceased. He began working closely with dentists and took an interest in the profession.
He started dental school in 1975 and after graduating in 1979 he “started to think about working where I wanted to live” – in Breckenridge, where he had been skiing most of his life.
John and Carre Warner came to town in the spring of 1980 and each set up businesses, he a dentistry practice, and she an interior design company.
It wasn’t long after his move to Breckenridge that Warner found another job: tooth fairy.
The “tooth fairy gig” started in the mid-80s when Warner, inspired by his profession, showed up at the Bump Buffet, a Breckenridge telemark tradition whose participants always show up in costume.
Warner’s tooth fairy costume, complete with tube top and tutu, became iconic, a personal trademark. He now owns four different costumes, three of them homemade, and a special wand with a stuffed tooth attached to an oversized toothbrush.
For now, Warner says he’s not going anywhere. At 60 years old, he plans to keep his dental practice running for a while, though he says he’s less certain whether he’ll run for mayor again when his term finishes next spring.
“I’m leaning in (the) direction (of running again),” Warner said. “But I have a pretty full plate … and (the other council members) have great insights, so the town’s not going to stop if I don’t decide to run.”
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