BUCKHANNON – When Dr. Larry Williams moved to Buckhannon in 1978, fresh out of optometry school, he could have never foreseen how much his chosen field would evolve. Now, as he enters retirement, the longtime local doctor has had a chance to reflect on his 41-year career.
Williams, who earned his optometry degree, or O.D., from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee, said when he first started out, he figured he’d be checking people’s vision and prescribing contacts and glasses.
However, over the past four decades, the field has progressed “leaps and bounds,” Williams said during a recent interview with My Buckhannon.
For instance, now optometrists can prescribe and administer topical and oral medications to treat eye diseases.
“We’ve really become part of the health care community,” he added.
Of course, prescribing contacts and glasses, detecting eye diseases and disorders and functioning as a “primary care doctor for the eye,” is still primarily what optometrists do.
Or did, as is true in Williams’s case.
Williams announced his retirement in late September, and now, he and his wife, Becky, who has long served as office manager and optician, are packing up the office.
But patients needn’t panic: Williams’s office, located in the Buckhannon Eye Center by WVU Medicine St. Joseph’s Hospital, will remain open through the end of November to allow patients to pick up their records.
Williams said the deaths of his mother and of ophthalmologist Dr. Jerry Black, a close friend, in a span of about two weeks prompted him to consider retirement.
“I just realized it was time for me,” he said. “Jerry would want me to retire, and my mother would want me to retire … Becky and I have devoted every day to this practice for 41 years, so it’s just time for us to step aside and enjoy life. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but I’m glad I made it.”
Born and raised in South Charleston, West Virginia, Williams graduated from South Charleston High School and went on to earn a degree in mathematics from the University of Charleston – then Morris Harvey College – in 1973.
He’d always been a numbers guy, so after pondering the prospect of dental school or optometry, he chose the latter.
“Physics, optics – everything fit,” Williams said. “Mathematics was my love, so I decided if I didn’t want to go to optometry school or dental school, I was going to go back and get an engineering degree.”
He chose the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, where he met his wife, Becky, who was studying to become an optometric technician.
Williams said he wanted to open his practice somewhere outside of the Kanawha Valley, so after considering Parkersburg and north-central West Virginia, Williams and his twin brother settled on Buckhannon in 1978.
“It was a lot like my hometown of South Charleston,” he said. “It had a Dairy Queen on one corner, a hardware store across the street, a couple jewelry stores – it was just almost exactly like our downtown in South Charleston. It felt like being home.”
In the old Lewis Jeweler’s building is where Williams opened his first practice and saw patients until 1983, when he, Dr. Black and the late optometrist Dr. Ronald George, jointly opened the Buckhannon Eye Center.
The opening day was Aug. 1, 1983, and he’s been there ever since.
For many of his 36 years there, he served as an adjunct professor for the Southern College of Optometry, mentoring student interns for a three-month rotation.
“I wanted to pass my knowledge on, and I did,” Williams said.
Now, Williams will look to pass on a different kind of knowledge as he spends more time with his children and grandchildren.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he said of his practice. “It’s just somebody else’s turn. We don’t live forever. I want to travel and see my son in Florida more, and I have four grandchildren down in Charleston, and so I want to be Grandpa. I want to go to the soccer games, I want to go to the baseball games and the basketball games, and basically, I haven’t had the time to do that because I had to be here.”
“You feel like you’ve missed things, so it’s time for me to be there,” Williams added. “It’s time for the next chapter.”
In addition to traveling and spending quality time with his family, Williams has a few hobbies he might take up on a more regular basis, including boating, golfing and amateur radio.
Williams said he and Becky want to thank their steadfast employees for their loyalty and diligence – especially Kim Linger and Mary Ellen Lemons – as well as their patients, who have come to him for eye care across generations.
“I’ve seen mothers and fathers, children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren – all in the same family – so I’ve seen all these families all these years, and it’s amazing,” Williams said. “We are so grateful to God for the favor He has shown us over these many years, and for the kindness and loyalty of our patients. We’ve been tremendously blessed by this community and we look forward to the next season of our lives.”