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Longtime dentist Jeff Bellinger served generations of Tiburon and Belvedere families

Jeff Bellinger, a stalwart presence on the Tiburon Peninsula for half a century as a dentist to generations of local families, died June 8 in Corte Madera. He had been dining with a friend at Marin Joe’s when he had a medical emergency, daughter Sally Knichel said. The cause is yet to be determined. He was 78.


Bellinger opened his practice about 1974 at the downtown Maritime Center before eventually settling on Juanita Lane and had patients come from the East Bay, Santa Rosa, Napa and even Hawaii, longtime dental assistant Mari Obeso said.


He had also been a volunteer firefighter with the Tiburon Fire Protection District since 1975. He joined following a fire at the now-decommissioned gas station near R&S Service Station on Tiburon Boulevard and was involved in annual fund­raisers like the Tiburon Triathlon and Firefighters Ball, as well as chili cook-offs, toy drives and blood drives.


Cindy Siciliano, who owns Cindy’s Hair Studio in the Maritime Center, said she knew Bellinger for 42 years as mutual customers and friends. He was one of her first customers, and she was reportedly his last.

“When you know someone that long, and we’re all in business in the same town, we’re like family,” Siciliano said. “I’m just completely devastated.”


Paige Peterson, a journalist and author who grew up in Belvedere and now lives in New York, said she and her mother were some of Bellinger’s first patients when he opened his practice and she continued to fly out from New York to have Bellinger take care of her teeth.


“The first time I went to New York, and I had to see a dentist, the dentist said to me, ‘You have had very good dental work,’” Peterson said. “And that really gave me an enormous amount of confidence that I had been in such good hands.”


Jeffery Glen Bellinger was born Nov. 16, 1945, in Little Rock, Arkansas, to Glen Earl Bellinger of Michigan and Marcile Mears of Arkansas. He had one younger brother, Greg.


During Bellinger’s youth, the family moved frequently due to his father’s work as a banker, spending time in Tallahassee and Pensacola, Florida, while also living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Bellinger graduated from Will Rogers High School.


After spending some time at the University of Tulsa, Bellinger moved to Seattle to continue his studies and earned his undergraduate degree and dental doctorate from the University of Washington. He received his California dental license in 1972, according to state records.


Bellinger served in the U.S. Air Force between 1970 and 1972, reaching the rank of captain; he was stationed stateside, Knichel said.


Knichel is one of Bellinger’s three kids with Nancy Bell, whom he married in 1970; she also worked in the family practice in multiple roles, including dental hygienist and receptionist. The couple raised her and brothers Adam and Travis on Centro East Street in Tiburon. Bellinger and Bell divorced, Knichel said, and Obeso said Bellinger had lived in Corte Madera for more than decade at the time of his death, moving there around 2012 or 2013.


“He loved his family with everything,” Knichel said. “He loved his job. He loved his patients. He was very committed to what he did.”


Obeso was hired as Bellinger’s dental assistant in 1998 and worked through the practice’s move down to Juanita Lane in 2011. She called Bellinger’s style of dentistry “very conservative,” as Bellinger “didn’t like to do things that he didn’t have to do.”


“He likes to save teeth,” Obeso said, later calling him trustworthy and honest. She said he’d tell patients whether he’d do something to his own teeth or mouth, creating trust.


“And that’s why people stayed with him,” Obeso said.


Obeso recalled Bellinger’s humorous advice to patients about flossing.


Obeso said her boss would joke with patients to floss Monday through Friday with weekends off, or to “floss the ones that you want to keep.”


Siciliano recalled a similar joke.


“‘If you don’t floss, Cindy, I won’t wash my hair,’” she said.


But Siciliano also said Bellinger was gentle with her and others, especially his senior patients. He’d help them calm down as they were being worked on and update them throughout the process, she said.


And in an evolving industry, Obeso said, Bellinger still focused on the basics of saving teeth.


“He didn’t have to do too much, and his patients are really well,” Obeso said. “They don’t have that much to do because they take care of their teeth. They listen to him.”


As a volunteer firefighter, Bellinger was a dependable hand for the community events he partook in or the firefighting that took place, said Tiburon resident Ray Lynch, the current president of the Tiburon Volunteer Fire Department. Lynch said the volunteer group stepped back from responding to fires four years ago.


“Jeff was just a constant,” Lynch said. “He was a stable, set-in-his-pattern viewpoints type of guy, but you knew you could always depend on him to be that way. It was great.”


Lynch said he and Bellinger would put out fires in Tiburon and across the county, which were more common years ago, and after a shift from the ’70s to the ’90s, go down to Sam’s Anchor Cafe and talk among themselves about their volunteering shifts over beer.


But there were fun times too, Lynch said: Bellinger once detoured Lynch and friends on a whim to Reno instead of their planned Klamath River trip because he wanted to play blackjack.


Bellinger also led his friends to a gas station by using a Cinzano-branded patio umbrella as a sail after they got stranded on a road trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for a camping and fishing trip, Lynch said.


“I defy anyone to ever come up with a picture of Jeff where he wasn’t having a good time,” he said.


Outside of his dentistry practice and his volunteer firefighting, Bellinger was a longtime member of the San Francisco Yacht Club and an all-around outdoorsman, Knichel said. She said he enjoyed sportfishing in both freshwater and saltwater, and he frequently traveled to Baja California to fish.


Bellinger was also a big hunter, she said, recalling many family camping trips at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino and the many times the family went river-rafting.


Knichel said her father loved his three grandchildren, with Peterson and Lynch adding that his office walls were adorned with photos of his family.


Siciliano said she’ll remember Bellinger’s smiles and his fun-loving nature, adding that many of the businesses she remembers from her start in 1982 are no more.


“I just hope that they find someone else, another dentist, that’s good like him, but I don’t know,” she said. “He’s going to be hard to replace.”


Peterson said she considered Bellinger to be a family member, adding that he played a part in creating “a beautiful, small-town feeling of caretaking of one another.”


“I think these community pillars are so critical to a small town,” Peterson said. “And he certainly will be missed.”


Bellinger is survived by former wife Nancy Bell of Novato; brother Greg Bellinger of Seattle; children Adam Bellinger of Santa Rosa, Travis Bellinger of Corte Madera and Sally Knichel of Coral Gables, Florida; and grandchildren Levi, Celeste and Camden. He was preceded in death by his parents.


Plans for a public celebration of life are pending, but Knichel said the family hopes to have one in July.


Reach Francisco Martinez at 415-944-4634.

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