Thousands of people have peered at Dr. Gerry Carvell’s eye charts during his 46 years of practice.
So it’s understandable the Red Deer optometrist might sometimes have trouble recognizing patients outside his clinic. But he’s also at a further disadvantage.
“Because they sit behind an instrument, you really don’t get to see their facial features,” pointed out the 73-year-old.
Such obstructions will soon disappear for Carvell, who is retiring at the end of this month. And when he closes his 4912 Gaetz Ave. clinic, it will mark the end of a practice that dates back to 1921.
“It’s probably the oldest existing practice in the province,” he said.
The clinic had already been operating 44 years when Carvell arrived in 1965. Newly graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., the Lethbridge native chose Red Deer as the place to share his optometry skills, alongside Dr. George Titeley.
Titeley had worked with Dr. Dennis Snell, who was the son of clinic founder Dr. Harold Snell.
Material provided by Red Deer archivist Michael Dawe indicates that Harold Snell came to Central Alberta from England in 1906, and the following year opened a jewelry and optical store in Red Deer.
After serving in the First World War, he sold the jewelry side of the business — which evolved into Mitchell and Jewell — and trained in Toronto to become an optometrist.
Carvell remembers chatting with Snell, who still frequented the clinic after retiring.
“He was very sharp,” said Carvell.
Snell would see patients in communities throughout the region. Often, said Carvell, he accepted agricultural products and other goods for his services.
“His favourite place to go was Nordegg,” said Carvell, explaining that Snell was sometimes paid in gold there.
One of about a half dozen optometrists in Red Deer when he arrived, Carvell quickly built up his own patient base — some of whom remain with him more than four decades later. The relationships often became more than professional.
“You gradually develop a friendship with many of them because you see them all the time,” said Carvell.
He acknowledged that he probably treats more seniors than his local counterparts. He attributed this to the fact that many of them started seeing him in the 1960s and 1970s.
“You’re still dealing with the same people, but now it’s 2012.”
As might be expected, his profession evolved considerably during Carvell’s career.
“Especially with the instrumentation, there’s a lot of differences,” he said.
Improved equipment and methodologies have made it easier to identify and treat problems.
“Before, you had to sort of assume what was going on because you didn’t have any way to prove it.”
Whereas he once worked Monday to Saturday and saw nine to 10 patients a day, in recent years Carvell has scaled back to a Monday-to-Thursday schedule with five to six people per day.
After Jan. 30, his long-standing clinic will cease operations altogether, with patients’ files transferred to The Red Deer Eye Care Centre.
“The unfortunate part is when I retire there’s nobody to take my place,” lamented Carvell. “It just works out that way.”
Dawe praised Carvell for his many contributions over the years.
“Gerry is a terrific community volunteer. He’s done so many things in Red Deer.”
His wife Judy has also done much for Red Deer, added Dawe.
“They’re just two of the very nicest people you’d ever want to meet.”
Two of Carvell’s favourite pastimes were volunteering as a ski patroller at Canyon Ski Resort and judging free-style ski competitions. The latter pursuit, he said, arose as a result of his son Bryce competing up to the international level.
“I was what you they classified as a B judge,” he said, explaining that this qualified him to judge internationally, but not at the Olympics.
He no longer participates in these snow activities, but enjoys reading and a few other hobbies.
With retirement less than two weeks away, he’s most looking forward to travelling with Judy to visit their two sons and five grandchildren in British Columbia.
“My wife is very adamant about seeing the kids,” he said.