Opposites Attract

by Jordan Green

Alan Miller and Dr. Sarah Shoaf celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary on Wednesday with a chocolate-themed food, beer and spirits pairing at Foothills Brewing.

“Thirteen is her lucky number because she was born on the 13th ,” Alan said. “And she figured since it was the day before Valentine’s Day, I would remember our anniversary.”

Sarah is the owner and lead orthodontist at Salem Smiles, an orthodontics practice serving children and adults that took up residency in the upstairs portion of the old Quality Oil Co. building, erected in 1938, at the corner of Reynolda Road and Northwest Boulevard in Winston-Salem.

Alan provides marketing services for the business, allowing Sarah to focus on her medical practice. Alan is also an underwater photographer who maintains a studio in the Arts District on Trade Street. Many of his photographs hang in the waiting room and operating rooms at Salem Smiles.

“The girls up front call me the office manager,” Alan said. “I tease them that I know about a lot about how to manage to be out of the office. I have a pretty good sense of when things are getting busy and they’ll need me to be there to answer phones. But if things are slow, I’ll probably be running out to restock on toilet paper at Sam’s Club.”

Alan said if he were an orthodontist himself, he wouldn’t want to be married to another orthodontist, although he acknowledged that arrangement works fine for some couples. But Sarah and Alan’s roles are well defined.

“I’m the boss of the operation,” Sarah said, noting that for several years she was the sole breadwinner.

“People say, ‘It must be great to make a living as a photographer,” Alan said. “I tell them, ‘You don’t really make a living.’ I’m the starving artist; she’s the art patron.”

They met, oddly enough, working together in their respective fields in Rochester, NY, where Alan grew up, in the late 1980s. Sarah, who grew up in Winston-Salem, was doing her orthodontics residency at Eastman Dental Center while completing her masters degree at University of Rochester. Alan ran the photography lab. Sarah looked forward to bringing Alan her film to be developed.

“Even when I didn’t have any of my own film to develop, I went to see him,” Sarah recalled. “I would say, ‘Anybody have any film? I’ll take it!’” That was where the relationship remained for about three years.

“Having worked retail, it’s hard to ask a customer out,” Alan said. “It took a long time.” They exchanged postcards. Alan sent Sarah a postcard from the British Virgin Islands during a scuba diving trip. Sarah reciprocated with a postcard from San Francisco.

Then Sarah asked Alan if he could help her move, but he told her regrettably he had to work.

“She told me: ‘Maybe you can help me move another time,’” Alan recalled. “It hit me over the head with a two-by-four.”

It wasn’t long before they started dating, and the relationship progressed quickly after that.

They moved to Winston-Salem in 1992, the year before they officially tied the knot. It was home for Sarah, and Alan quickly took to the City of the Arts.

“I didn’t miss a beat,” he said. Sarah taught at Baptist Hospital and Alan worked in the photo lab at the hospital. Later, Alan worked at the photography coordinator at Sawtooth School for Visual Art, and in 1999, he opened his studio on Trade Street.

They share many hobbies, and also occasionally pursue interests on their own.

A sports enthusiast who has received a subscription to Sports Illustrated since 1972, Sarah introduced Alan to golf. Alan introduced Sarah to scuba diving and they take two trips a year so that Alan can pursue his underwater photography; Sarah acts as his spotter, pointing out fish and other features of the ocean. They hold season tickets for Wake Forest University’s football and basketball seasons. They also both love to travel.

Sarah makes beaded jewelry, which is on display at the studio on Trade Street. And she’s an avid baker who attended culinary school. Lately, she’s been baking bread with Foothills beer and grain byproduct left over from the brewing process.

“We like to give bread out,” Alan said. “I take it to the bartenders and the wait staff at Foothills. Every once it in awhile, I’ll give some to a stranger. I might strike up a conversation with someone at the bar, and at the end I’ll say, ‘Hey, want a loaf of bread?’” Their respective passions and activities overlap, and they seem to alternate through lead and supporting roles.

“I guess we’re kind of like these double orbiting planets,” Sarah said. “We give each other freedom to pursue other interests.”

Alan joked about the evolution of their relationship over the past 25 years.

“We’re slower and creak more,” he joked, and Sarah added that their relationship has mellowed.

“Like a fine wine,” Alan agreed. “Mellowed and gotten better.”