Longtime clinic mentor retires

Friday, April 19, 2024
Dr. Stephen Tait with optometric assistant Shannon Bylsma (left) and office manager Amber Spence (centre)
Dr. Stephen Tait with optometric assistant Shannon Bylsma (left) and office manager Amber Spence (centre)

Since 1981, Dr. Stephen Tait (OD’79) has been driving from Ingersoll to Waterloo once a week, an hour each way, to mentor students at the University of Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science. As students wrapped up their terms, he recently made the drive for the last time, returning home after enjoying cake and many good wishes for his retirement.

Even accounting for a few years he took off for various reasons, Tait spent about 40 years as a part-time optometrist and clinical supervisor at the School. Why did he do it when he had a successful full-time optometry practice in Ingersoll?

Drs. Ernest Lucchetti, Stephen Tait, and Andre Stanberry at Tait's School retirement celebration

“I liked having to be ahead of the game,” says Tait. “The students were very bright and asked questions I didn’t always know the answer to, so they kept me on my toes. Interacting with the students taught me a lot about life in general.”

Tait grew up in Woodstock and always knew he wanted to be in a people-oriented profession. He was interested in light and optics, an offshoot from his photography hobby, so he set his sights on optometry.

After he graduated, Tait felt lucky to be in a line of work where a bank granted him a loan to set up a business despite not having any collateral. Ingersoll Optometry has been operating successfully ever since.

Tait initially decided to spend a day a week at the School to keep up with the latest in optometry. Later, it became more about giving back.

“It was great to have the opportunity to mentor people the way I was mentored when I was young,” says Tait. “I really enjoyed spending time with the students. They knew the science of optometry, but I think I was able to teach them something about how to deal with human beings.”

Tait certainly knows a thing or two about relationships – he’s been seeing many of the same patients for decades and knows much more about them than their eye health.

“If you have a small-town practice and you live in town, you get to know pretty much everybody,” says Tait. “If you have a good reputation, you can last for 45 years, I guess.”

Ingersoll Optometry has been a family affair – Tait’s wife Debbie managed the office in recent years and now his daughter Amber does. Students were made to feel like part of the family too – for more than 15 years, the practice welcomed fourth-year clerkship students.

Dr. Steven Tait stands with new clinic owner Dr. Nestor Bayona (OD "09)

Two of the former clerkship students became long-term associates after they graduated. Dr. Laurie Canham Kilby (OD‘07) worked with Tait for years before starting her own practice in Norwich, also in Oxford County. Dr. Nestor Bayona (OD’09) has now taken over Ingersoll Optometry after a transitional partnership period. He plans to start taking on clerkship students himself soon.

Tait is retiring from Ingersoll Optometry on May 1, marking the end of one era but the beginning of another. He’s looking forward to some travel – Scotland is high on the list, with the rest being up to his wife – as well as more time for canoeing, cycling, photography and local charity work. He’ll miss the people both at his practice and at the School, but he’s looking forward to his next chapter.

“I have no regrets whatsoever about my career,” says Tait.