When optometrist Dr. R. Whitman Lord and his wife, Lurue, opened their practice in Statesboro in 1978, it was just the two of them. When “Whit” Lord died Tuesday at age 62, Lord Eye Center had eight locations and about 100 employees from Dublin and Augusta to Savannah and Brunswick.
In Statesboro, friends, business leaders and Lord Eye Center employees are noting the loss. Lord died at home after an extended illness caused by a brain tumor. Although Lord had been very ill for months, his death came as a shock, Lord Eye Center Administrative Director Lynn Johnson said.
“It’s been a very difficult year, but yes, it was a shock to all the employees,” she said. “He was such a good, kind and gentle, happy man. He’s going to be greatly missed.”
Lord grew up on a farm near Dublin, attended the University of Georgia and earned his doctorate at the Southern School of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn. But his wife, originally Lurue Laircey, was from Statesboro.
The first employee to join the practice was Danielle Mixon, a neighbor of Lurue’s mother. The second employee, Julia Carlson, came on board about a decade later and is still there after about 23 years, Johnson said.
Optometrists Dr. Robert Baldwin, Dr. Stephen Cauley and the rest of the staff carry on the work at the Statesboro location.
Cauley moved from Texas to Statesboro to work for Lord 14 years ago.
“It was great working for him,” Cauley said. “That’s the reason I’ve been here this long.”
Well-respected and known for his intelligence, Lord guided young people interested in optometry into the profession, Cauley said. He knew of two who worked as “pre-testers” at the center who are now finishing optometry school.
Also involved in setting professional standards, Lord was the longest-serving member of the Georgia Board of Examiners in Optometry. The board is made up of optometrists from around the state appointed by the governor to oversee testing and licensing. He was also a member of a national group that aims at advancing the profession, the Vision Enhancement Council.
“He was the kind of person you look forward to calling a friend,” said Anthony Waters of L.A. Waters Furniture, identified by others and himself as a close friend of Lord. Both active members of the Rotary Club of Statesboro, they had also served together on the board of the former First Southern National Bank.
“He was a great doctor, but he was also a very good businessman. Because of that, he had a very successful practice and business. Whatever he did, he did it with a lot of wisdom,” Waters said. “I always admired that about him.”
Lord enjoyed flying a private plane. One fellow pilot who often saw him at the airport and became a close friend is contractor Ellis Wood.
“He has been a very strong asset to our community, he and Lurue both, and he will be greatly missed by the business community,” Wood said. “I think our community was blessed by the fact that when he and Lurue got married they decided to stay in Statesboro.”
Lord prescribed eyeglasses for Sea Island Bank President and CEO Darron Burnette, soon to be chairman of the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce. But more than that, they were friends.
“I think it’s a tremendous loss to the community,” Burnette said. “It’s a great place to live and it’s people like him that make it such a wonderful place. He was a kind person. He would always take time for you.”
The skills and teamwork that Dr. Whitman Lord and Lurue Lord brought into their business are what Burnette believes brought them success.
“Their partnership is what made that whole business work, his skill on the medical side and her skill on the business side, you know,” Burnette said.
The funeral service will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at Statesboro First United Methodist Church, where Lord was a longtime member, with the Rev. James Cason officiating.
Visitation will be held from 4-7 p.m. today at Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home.