Column: In with a blizzard, out with a pandemic, beloved optometrist retires

My husband Mike opened the door to his optometry practice in Columbus in January 1978; one of the snowiest Indiana winters on record. We relocated from Louisville, where, fresh out of the Indiana University School of Optometry, Mike was working for a large, commercial practice. It wasn’t a good match. We were happy to return to Indiana for a promising opportunity in a small, family-friendly community. Mike hit it off immediately with Charles Oliver, head optician and owner of Columbus Optical. They settled their agreement with a handshake.

Mike and I put the finishing touches on his office the weekend before he opened for business. I mopped, dusted and organized the reception desk … expectantly slipping the appointment book into the top drawer. Mike did the heavy-lifting — arranging equipment in his exam room and hauling in waiting-room furniture … including an old white plastic couch friends had given us when we were penniless college students. Need I mention we were decorating on a budget? We had stronger backs then, too.

We hoped the appointment book would fill. I was pregnant with our first child, and responsibilities were looming. We were 28 and 26; our lives ready to unfold.

Mike began his career working six days a week, 12-hours a day. Over the years, he’s pared his days down, but I finally learned not to hold dinner on workdays. Those 12-hour days never ended.

This week, Mike is hanging up his ophthalmoscope and retiring. We are grateful for a good run of 43-plus years. We’ve lived here most of our lives, and his practice allowed us to raise our sons in a great community. They’re 42 and 41 now, and Mike and I are 70 and 71. We are blessed with four grandchildren, too … and fewer years ahead of us than behind us. And, yes, Mike eventually upgraded the waiting-room furniture.

A career is an education in itself, and Mike learned a lot through the years. He saw a diverse group of patients, from corporate executives to the poorest of the poor. But no matter who you were, or how you identified, or what your station in life, he treated every patient who came through his door the same: with respect.

He’s been privileged to care for several generations of some families. He’s taken delight in seeing children and grandchildren of his first patients.

Medical mission trips to Haiti, Belize, Mexico and to a Choctaw Reservation in Alabama were experiences that humbled Mike and deepened his spirituality.

There was one valuable lesson he learned early in his practice: you can’t please everyone, no matter how hard you try. But he pleased most of the people most of the time, and that brought great satisfaction.

There have been many poignant memories shared with Mike as he edges closer to retirement. One patient thanked him for catching a malignant tumor in his brother when it was at an early stage. The cancer eventually claimed his brother’s life, but without Mike’s early diagnosis, the brother wouldn’t have gotten two more years with his wife and family.

Tomorrow, June 30, Mike will turn in his keys, douse the lights, and close the door on his career in optometry. He’ll take with him many great memories and very few regrets. He came in with a blizzard and out with a pandemic. And as the old adage goes, “when one door closes, another one opens.” We’re excited to build new memories and to share new experiences without the pressure of a work schedule. We don’t know what’s behind door No. 3, but our plan is to open it wide and enjoy the rest of our ride.