As Peter Stiles leafs through albums charting the growth of Barraclough and Stiles Opticians into a flourishing six-branch practice he looks back on a 44-year career in the profession he loves.
Peter retired yesterday (Thursday March 27) and his career has spanned technological development in ophthalmics he could hardly have envisioned when he entered it as a graduate.
It was a career which at times took him thousands of miles from his Western Road consulting room to help people in Malawi and Kenya who had walked for hours to have their first professional eye examination.
In a tribute, his colleagues say: “Peter has worked tirelessly over the years to develop the business, but also in supporting local and overseas charities. “He will be greatly missed by all the staff, not only for his hard work but also for his good humour and sense of fun.
Over the years Peter has encouraged and trained members of staff to help develop themselves and the business. Many of the staff are still with the firm today.
“Many of Peter’s patients have seen him during his entire time with Barraclough and Stiles and will miss him very much, including those who have followed him round the Barraclough and Stiles practices.
“Peter will be missed by everyone and we all wish him a very happy retirement.
“We would like to reassure all of Peter’s clients that their continuity of eye care will be well served by our other optometrists.”
Peter was born at Farnborough, Hampshire, later moving to Fleet. He had planned to be a doctor. It was his headmaster who suggested optics, and the welcome he received and the interest which the subject immediately aroused in him led to him studying at the City University in London between 1964 and 1967.
He did his year’s pre-registration training with Harwoods in Camberley. He moved to Hastings on qualifying in 1969 and joined the Norman Road, St Leonards practice which Frank Barraclough had purchased in 1955.
In 1968 Frank had bought a small practice in St Leonards Road, Bexhill. Peter ran this two days a week, working the remainder of the week at Norman Road.
Peter became a partner in 1972, the practice becoming Barraclough and Stiles.
In 1977 the partnership bought long-derelict greengrocery premises in Western Road, Bexhill.
“We totally refurbished it as an optical practice. Within a year it was running full-time with two consulting rooms.
“Before we moved, in 1974 we had acquired the Eastbourne branch in Pevensey Road of Sidney Carter who was retiring. We moved to the present Terminus Road premises in 1996.”
The Battle branch was opened in 1981; Polegate in 1986 and Seaford in 1997.
Frank Barraclough’s sons Tony and Nigel became partners, together with Sindi Puri and Jeremy Heynes.
Peter says: “Frank and I have always had the same work ethic - the best possible standard of service and eye care; spending time with our patients.
“This personal service has been maintained and continued by the partners and our loyal members of staff over the years; which has enabled our business to survive and flourish against growing and fierce commercial competition”
Naturally, Peter has mixed feelings about retirement.
“Many of my patients I have been seeing for over 40 years. I have been looking after their children and grandchildren.
“Enormous changes have happened in the profession.
“We saw the start of computerisation. Now everything from appointments to records is computerised.”
Peter took the Diploma of Contact Lens Practitioners and saw the transformation that the introduction of soft contact lenses made.
Gas-permeable soft contact lenses allow vital oxygen through to the retina and offer safe usage for sportsmen.
“Developments in optical instrumentation have been amazing.”
Pressure-testing for glaucoma and retinal camera screening are examples.
Peter says: “The great satisfaction is being able to improve people’s sight and also spotting conditions in their early stages and preventing deterioration in their sight such as cataracts and glaucoma.”
Peter was a Round Tabler. He is a member of the 41 Club and has been a member of the Rotary Club of Senlac since 2007.
In the 1980s he undertook three missions to Malawi with Vision Aid Overseas, testing eyesight and prescribing donated used spectacles. He has made three working visits to
Kenya with Senlac Rotary, dispensing ready-readers donated by a supplier.
The visits were moving and sometimes traumatic experiences. With the nearest hospital hundreds of miles away, people would walk long distances to be seen.
The tragedy, he says, is that low-cost medication or treatment could save the sight of so many in Africa.
Peter has an adult son and daughter by his first marriage. His wife, Jeannie, has two daughters by hers. Between them, they have six grandchildren. Retirement will be spent enjoying family life and a wide range of interests which, for Peter, includes Highwoods Preservation Society work-parties.