The summer Georgia Tuttle, M80, was six years old, she lived on the campus of Virginia’s Madison College with her mother, who was working toward a degree. One Sunday afternoon, Tuttle and her friend were pretending to be Superman. Towels pinned to their shirts, the pair “flew” into an open door at the biology building. “A very nice graduate student or young professor found us in the anatomy room looking at jars of fetuses and skeletons,” Tuttle recalled. “He took us on a tour and I remember everything he showed us—I had a burning interest in human anatomy, biology, and medicine.”
That serendipitous trespass helped spur Tuttle to enroll at Tufts University School of Medicine and later go into private dermatology practice in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Active on numerous American Medical Association councils and committees over the years, Tuttle was also the first woman elected president of the New Hampshire Medical Society in 1999. But her public service didn’t stop there. She was also mayor of Lebanon for eight straight terms, stepping down last year. We caught up with the doctor-politician to talk life, work, and the call to serve.
How does a dermatologist wind up in politics?
Two things happened: First, the zoning ordinance in our community hadn’t been updated in seventeen years. I attended hearings on some of the proposed zoning changes to manage the growth of our community—we were overrun by haphazard development and trying to rein it in. At the time, I was also listening to John Adams by David McCullough. I reached the part where Adams had signed the Declaration of Independence and he and his son were sailing across the North Atlantic in winter. If caught, he’d be hung for treason. As I listened to the story, I thought, What have I done for my country?
Did being a doctor affect the way you approached government work?
Someone trained in science, math, and medicine can look at a complex problem, break it into small components, and work through it in a logical way looking at alternatives. That’s why it’s so important to learn math and science in school. You don’t have to major in any of those fields, but the training you get in the STEM curriculum teaches you to think logically.
And did being a politician affect the way you practiced medicine?
Sometimes, we don’t realize exactly what our patients are going through—but I would hear testimony in my chamber from people who couldn’t pay taxes or sewer increases, and it opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about the challenges people are facing. I became even more empathetic to their struggles.
New Hampshire is famously home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Is it a good place to be a politician?
Over the years, I’ve met every presidential candidate at least twice. I stood next to John McCain and got his autograph. I saw the Bushes, the Clintons, and Obama. In 2016, the presidential candidates were trapped down in southern New Hampshire and didn’t come up to the North Country as much because of the dynamics of the election. Generally, I get to listen to each one in a small group so I can really see what kind of people they are. I think that’s partly what kept me excited about the political process in our country.