One of North Augusta's longest-serving medical professionals has shifted gears, wrapping up almost four decades of service a few steps from Georgia Avenue.

Dr. John Smith, as an optometrist, has been a downtown fixture since August 1980, having arrived at his career station by way of an undergraduate degree in zoology, from Clemson, and a doctorate in optometry from Southern College of Optometry, in Memphis, Tennessee.

The road led back to his hometown, and patients weren't hard to find. "Over the period of years that I've been there, it seems like every year we accumulated an extra 1,000 new patients," and the ultimate result was a "huge practice," he recalled.

"I was very very fortunate to treat not only the patients but then their families and their families, so it was more than just 'walk in get your eyes checked and leave.' It was basically, they became part of that family that we tried to establish."

The North Augusta native also recalled a professional highlight. "We actually sat through 80 hours of pharmacology, and so 1993 was a big changing point in the practice. We actually became licensed to use drugs in the practice, as far as antibiotics and this and that," he said. 

Smith has also been known over the years as a major financial backer of local youth sports – baseball, football, soccer and basketball. "He sponsored a little bit of everything," said Rick Meyer, North Augusta's director of parks, recreation and tourism. 

Smith's wife, Suzanne, is a neurologist at Augusta University, specializing in multiple sclerosis, and their three boys (now adults) helped provide plenty of lessons about keeping kids busy and on the right track.  

The optometrist's major personal pursuit, in terms of health and fitness, has been bicycling – logging hundreds of miles each week in Aiken County and around Augusta. Long trips have normally been on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. 

Bicycle safety is one of Smith's favorite causes, as confirmed by Drew Jordan, owner of Andy Jordan's Bicycle Warehouse. "He'd see somebody on a bike – no tail light – and he'd go back, get them and give them a tail light. That's something you don't hear of often ... In my opinion, that was huge. Something small, but it could be the difference in life and death for somebody," Jordan recalled.

Smith retired Jan. 1, and his shop is now under the guidance and ownership of Eyecare Associates of South Carolina. The decision to apply the brakes was not easy, he noted. "I was ready for the next chapter in life and wanted to retire while my health still allows for travel and cycling."

Travel, in the optometrist's case, has meant helping fill the freezer on occasion, as he has headed to Wyoming for elk-hunting trips over the decades, resulting in ingredients for him to use in pursuing his interests as a cook. 

"I also enjoy reading and hiking with my spoiled dog," he noted, referring to Abby. "She is keeping me busy ... She has to have her early morning walk and then her Jeep ride in the afternoon."

Brett Ardrey, owner of Outspokin' Bicycles, recalled Smith's generosity in helping individuals and families hit the road on good bikes with adequate safety equipment. "He's also a good cyclist himself, and he's super generous. He'd always have groups of people over to his house," he said, confirming the bounties that came from trips to Wyoming. 

Greeneway users may be familiar with some additions that came via Smith's support, such as handmade benches with an artistic flair, as shown in front of the convenience store at Pisgah and West Five Notch roads, a few yards from the Greeneway. 

As for the road ahead, Smith wrote, "I plan to cycle more and explore different cooking styles. Cooking is a big hobby for me. My wife, Suzanne, and I cooked for a Medical College of Georgia fundraiser in the past – 'Doctors Who Cook' – and she is now enjoying having dinner in preparation when she comes home from work."