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George Legault looks back on nearly 50 years in opticianry

Fondly remembers the growth of his business and many friends he made through the years
George Legault, a longtime Sault optician, retired in June.

In case you are wondering, veteran Sault optician George Legault has gone to play outside and left his practice in the capable hands of FYidoctors.

Last month, he announced that he would be retiring as an optician after almost 50 years in the field. Legault sold his patients’ files to FYidoctors, which has now replaced his old practice, Soo Optical Centre.

Legault sat down (virtually) with SooToday to discuss his career and the changing field.

The first thing he explained was the different professions within eye care:

Optometrists, he explains, examine patients’ eyes for abnormalities and may prescribe glasses or contact lenses. Ophthalmologists carry out surgeries, such as laser eye surgery, while opticians fill ophthalmologists' prescriptions.

Legault has been licensed in opticinary since 1967.

“I went [to Sault Ste. Marie] in 1970. In ’72 I came to this building [Soo Optical in the Churchill Plaza]. In ’84, the company I was working for went bankrupt and I bought this place. Now I’m 75, time to call it a day.”

Legault said he was hesitant to retire at first, before he knew what would become of his practice. However, in 2020, Legault was approached by FYidoctors, which made me an offer to buy his patient files.

"That’s one of the reasons I didn’t retire sooner - I didn’t have a home for all these people,” he said. “The alternative was to sell for whatever I could get, or not save the store.”

Changes seen in the field kept it interesting

How has the eye care field changed in the past 50 years?

The opticinary veteran highlights the trend of opticians, ophthalmologists and optometrists working in a single building. 

“A lot of change in people moving into group practice. Before you didn’t see the three Os working in the same setting. Now there’s a lot of cooperation.”

Legault sees this change for the better, as it speeds up collaboration between professionals. 

“You can reduce your overhead space. And cooperation is more likely to happen when you run into a problem. As opposed to when we were each independent and [cooperation] could take months. If an optometrist has a problem that he thinks is medical, now he can just go across the hall.”

Despite believing that he is “still doing the same thing I did fifty years ago,” Legault points to some major changes in technology.

Eight frames to choose from

“When I started we had eight frames to choose from; for men, women and children. That was it,” he said. “You sat down in a cubicle, and you picked from one of eight. You took their measurements and that’s how it went. And every frame came in different sizes.”

Now, though, with hundreds of frames to pick from, “most frames come in one size and if you don’t like that size, choose a new frame.”

Moreover, since the start of the pandemic, the way eye care professionals keep up with trends has changed.

Traditionally, professionals would have to do 30 hours each year of conferences on innovations in eye care, he said.

“If you lived in the Sault, you would have to go to Toronto all weekend long.”

Now, these conferences have migrated to Zoom.

Joy of watching people who couldn't see very well see the world a major motivator

Within this changing field, Legault recalls several good memories. 

For example, he remembers “getting glasses on children who have never seen properly. They get their first pair of glasses and they look up and touch their moms’ faces like they are seeing it for the first time. And they look up and see colours and shapes."

“It gets to you.”

After announcing his retirement, Legault recounts having been contacted by former patients with kind memories.

“I had one contact lens customer… She said I had fitted her with contact lenses when she was 15 and was an introvert.”

But after being able to see properly, her life turned around, she became much more social and then became a cheerleader.

Colleagues also made a positive impact

Legault is thankful for his great colleagues over the years. 

“I had a ball with my colleagues and people in the building here. They’ve been awesome. I’ve had some great colleagues over the years. When you have fun at work, it’s not work.”

He also notes that many of his friends started as co-workers or patients. 

Legault intends on spending time outdoors and playing hockey during his retirement. And when the pandemic is over, he would like to travel.