John Hunter, gentleman, turns over his practice in the old fashioned way

During the rest of June and all of July, John Hunter will be extending his generous hand to link his family of patients to their new optometrist.

It’s important to Dr. John Hunter that the 2000 people in his practice are personally introduced and connected to the young woman who will become the caregiver of their sight.

It’s an old fashioned, gentle way of extending business. And John Hunter is a gentle man with old fashioned values.

His practice was just two years old, tucked in water-view rooms above the Walkwel Shoe Store on Dunlop St when I first visited him. Up a flight of stairs and into a sunny waiting room with a pine deacon’s bench, pine magazine racks and a cheerful ambience … I was new to Barrie and this new optometrist was to become a lifelong caregiver to my sight.

I think I can speak for every one of John Hunter’s extended patient family when I say we grew up with him. As young professionals, we became an important part of John’s growing practice; he shared our business successes and celebrated the arrival of our children. He took time.

He spent 15 years in his downtown location, on the second floor of a building that had belonged to his grandfather, Charlie Hunter. Charlie, in 1910, ran a men’s clothing shop from that location and John inherited ownership of the building and chose it for his practice when he moved here from Owen Sound in 1968.

He and his wife Betty brought their three week old baby, Stephen, to their new home on Shanty Bay Rd. “New” home to them, but a building that John has spent 40 years renovating. John remembers that he and Betty and Stephen arrived with the truck carrying their worldly possessions on Hallowe’en night; as they stumbled through the door with boxes, little children were tromping up their driveway expecting treats. Today, the Hunters are the longest residents of Shanty Bay Rd.

John and Betty added two more children, Jennifer and Jeffrey, to their family and began to put down roots. And John’s practice grew. He sold the Walkwel building to Bill Oakes and he and his sons managed a shoestore in the location during the 80’s. John moved to a house he bought at 121 Bayfield St and he’s been there for 22 years. The Oakes sold it to the owner of Cafe Coco which has been a Dunlop St mainstay for many years.

John Hunter has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and he could see the day when there would be a need for temporary employees. He bought into the Manpower Temporary Services franchise and operated that business from the second floor of his Bayfield St building. He did that at the same time he was steeped in home renovations, helping to raise three busy kids, belonging to an active Rotary Club and holding key positions in his church. And, on top of all that, he managed at least 2,000 eye examination visits every year.

What’s truly wonderful about an exam by John Hunter is that he goes beyond the technicalities of “is that in focus?” and cares about you, the person. He asks about your work, your spouse, your kids, your plans.

“I believe that business is a relationship. It’s rewarding to have a family come in and build a connection with them. Watching kids grow up and become adults and bnring in their own kids… it’s awesome!” says John. “It’s also helpful to care for an entire family; it helps in diagnosing problems as a child’s eyes develop if you know the history of their parents’ eyes.”

Like any other career, optometry has changed over the 40 years that John has been in practice. Mechanization, computerization, equipment, photography of the retina, laser surgery… it’s all brought incredible impact to his optometry practice. “Photography of the retina is now 3-dimensional, more exacting results for things like glaucoma and detection of macular degeneration,” notes the good doctor.

While John has been caring for his patients, with the administrative guidance of Dawn Van Nispen (his 22 year employee), he’s been using his weekend time to haul out his tool belt and refurbish a cabin at Devil’s Glen. He loves carpentry and must have passed it on to son Jeffrey, who is a cabinet maker in Victoria, BC. Stephen is now a successful optometrist in Moscow, Idaho. Jennifer is busy doing the most important job in the world… raising a little one.

Today, many practitioners close and move on without a word. Not John. He is introducing Erin Haney to her new patients. He’s facilitating a transition as she takes over a practice that’s been 40 years in the making. Erin, a graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Optometry School, hails from Kincardine. She and her husband have already bought a house in Barrie. Erin will be aided by Dawn Van Nispen as she takes over the practice. The building has been sold separately.

You can bet when John puts down his optometry tools and turns off the eye chart for the last time, he’ll leave with a mixture of emotions… sad to leave what he’s built, but happy to be able to strap on that tool belt for longer periods of time.

Thanks, John.