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Morristown dentist, who responded to Ground Zero after 9/11, dies of COVID-19 on Christmas

More people died of the coronavirus in Knox County in December than in March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October combined.
Credit: WBIR

To his patients, Dr. J. Randall Pearce was more than just a dentist. 

In his office, he blasted "oldies" hits from the 60s and sang along. On Halloween, he always dressed up and came to the office in costume—after all, if there's any holiday dentists should celebrate its that. 

But Pearce's daughter, Kimberly Peterson, describes him as more than just "a kid at heart."

He worked as a forensic dentist in coordination with Dr. Bill Bass at the UT Body Farm. His team responded to Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks in an effort to identify remains. 

"He could take something as dark as dental identification through death and he would make it where it was helping families, bringing closure, bringing peace to a lot of these families," Peterson said. 

Pearce, 69, died Christmas Day after a two-week battle with COVID-19. His efforts at Ground Zero compromised his lungs with COPD. 

"His lungs were just not strong enough to sustain him," Peterson said. On Christmas Eve, he texted to tell her he was at his worst yet. On Christmas morning, the hospital staff said she needed to come now if she wanted to say goodbye. 

"Fortunately, we made it and we were able to spend some time with him," Peterson said. 

"My father passed away on Christmas Day. Now Christmas will never be the same for myself, my mother, or my children." 

Peterson also expressed frustration at those who refuse to wear a face-covering: her father wore a mask every day and all day. 

"He was a healthcare provider and an essential worker," she said. "My father wasn't an old man." 

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