An interview with Tim Neufeld, Manager at IRIS in Prince George
Tim Neufeld, congratulations on your 20 years at IRIS!
This interview made us smile and laugh, and we're confident it's going to have the same effect on you! Enjoy getting to know Tim!
Tell us about your studies and your career: What motivated you to study in this field? What was your journey like?
I started wearing glasses when I was 8 years old, and I've been fascinated with optics all my life, but truthfully, I started in the optical field quite by accident. I began with Hale Optical on February 19, 1988; it later became London Optical, until it was sold to IRIS in September 2000. Dr. Francis Jean, the founder of IRIS, was adamant that he wasn't purchasing the company but its people. And he was true to his word! Many of my colleagues are still working with IRIS, continuing the vision of Dr. Jean in "providing the highest quality products and professional services" to our patients.
I've worked in various locations. I began my career in Powell River, where I worked for 7 years, onto Campbell River for 5 years, then to Prince George for almost 20 years now, where I opened the existing IRIS location in Pine Centre Mall.
Do you have any particular habit or mannerisms that you are known for among your coworkers?
I have a habit of pacing, especially when I'm on the phone. I tend not to notice I'm doing this until my coworkers ask me to please sit down.
Do you have any career-defining moments?
Well, my early career produced one of my most life-defining moments! A coworker was in a fender-bender and had to be off work for about 3 months. Our office needed to hire someone part-time and likely short-term. I immediately thought of someone I knew who was getting married and was planning on moving away afterward. I thought she could use a little extra money beforehand, and then she'd be moving away anyway, so it would be a great fit! Well, she said no. We hired her sister instead; she and I will be celebrating 30 years of marriage next year.
As far as a career-defining moment, certainly moving, in December 2000, from an optical-based model in Campbell River to open an optometry-based location in Prince George is a highlight. Dr. Jean entrusted me with choosing the spot I thought would be best for the new store. He only flew in afterward, telling me many times how he loved the visibility. We are still in the original spot where we first opened our doors as an IRIS location in September 2001. It was exciting learning the management side of a brand-new optometric location and adapting to an optometrist's needs.
Have you ever made a work-related mistake that you find funny in hindsight?
One day, this man comes in and asks if his glasses have been repaired. I look over to the area where the repairs are, and there are 2 pairs of glasses in trays. One of them has a name and phone number, and the other just has a couple of glasses. So, I ask, "Are you, Walter?" He says yes. The glasses are a really thick prescription, not the kind you see every day. Walter puts them on; he thanks me and walks out the door smiling.
A few hours later, another man comes in and asks if his glasses have been repaired. He says his name is Walter. Imagine my disbelief! I take the other glasses, the ones without a name, and ask if they are his. He says no and describes the glasses I gave to the other Walter. How is this possible? The other prescription was completely different! Well, we apologize for the mix-up and ask if Walter could wait a day or two, as indeed the "other Walter" will not be able to wear the pair he has and will bring them back.
We wait but realize the other guy is not coming back. We tell the now distraught Walter that we will make him a brand-new pair of his choice and deliver them to him. It turns out he lives on a private island only accessible by water-taxi. What an expensive mistake!
Well, a few weeks later, a young man comes in with a pair of glasses. He says these are not his Dad's glasses. He hands me Walter's original eyeglasses. I show him the other pair we still have, and sure enough, he identifies them as his Dad's. It turns out his Dad was hospitalized shortly after he came in to pick up his repair due to some medical problems he had been suffering from confusion.
Here is another one:
This particular story wasn't really my mistake, but it is very funny! A patient ordered a pair of transitions lenses. When they were ready, he came in, picked up his new glasses, and left happy. About 10 minutes later, he comes back grinning; I look up to see that only one of his lenses is turning dark. I've had situations where the tint wasn't applied or vice-versa, and I've told the customer to keep them until we get things fixed but never had a case of "piracy."
Do you have any vision problems? If so, what are they?
I was extremely near-sighted but didn't know this until there was a vision screening at school. As I got closer and closer in the line to the eye chart, I was trying to make out the letters. When it was my turn, I was asked to read a line on the chart. I couldn't make out anything. Then I was asked to read the next line up and then the next line up after that. Finally, after I kept giving the same answer, I was asked, "Well, what can you read?" I replied, "The E at the top, but it's kind of blurry." I was a good student who sat at the very front of the classroom, so no one had any idea that my vision wasn't normal until then. Eye exams for children weren't stressed as much back then.
In March 2007, I had laser surgery through IRIS. It is so freeing waking up in the middle of the night, or at the start of my day, and not having to reach for my glasses. After some years, my eyes again needed a small prescription for driving, but I don't need my glasses now until I am ready to leave the house in the morning.
If you wear glasses, do you own multiple pairs, or do you wear one pair and update them often? Is the opposite true?
I've been in the industry for a long time, and though my prescription has been stable, I've almost always had one favourite frame that I liked and would wear exclusively. Late last year though, I selected a beautiful Italian-made Maui Jim frame, as we were chosen as a test store for their new line of optical frames. In March, just the week before the pandemic, we had a trunk show where we featured Denmark frames. I fell in love with a deep electric-blue frame from Woow. This year, IRIS launched a new in-house brand called LYA, inspired by Dr. Jean's famous "Love You All" phrase, which would conclude his motivating speeches to his people. Within this collection, I found a transparent plastic frame that I liked. So, for the very first time, I'm going back and forth between three frames I love.
What are your favourite hobbies?
I started playing chess to take the focus off ongoing migraines I used to suffer when I was younger. Now I play some chess online almost every day. It used to be hard to find a playing partner, but online chess is booming, and with today's technology, I can find someone to play with any time of the day or night, from countries all over the world, which is pretty cool. I even started watching online tournaments, which is not as dull as it may sound; some of the games are played with concise time controls so that the whole game can be played in 5-15 minutes. They even play bullet chess, which is played with only 1 minute for each player.
If your family had to describe you in three words, what would they be?
My granddaughter is 14 months old. She only knows one word to describe me, and it always melts my heart, "Papa." My wife and children tell me I am: loyal, loving, and nerdy.
What advice would you like to give all patients?
Love and appreciate your vision. If we've been blessed to open two gifts every morning, we should appreciate our eyes, our sight, and all they allow us to do. We need to show our eyes the love they deserve and never forget to look after them, and not wait until after we start having problems. Just because our vision seems good doesn't mean our eyes are healthy, and not everyone who wears glasses has unhealthy eyes.
What do you like the most about your job? What do you like the most about IRIS?
Definitely, the people! There are the many wonderful patients I've come to know over the years, some of whom I first saw as children. As they come in for regular eye health exams, I've literally seen them grow up in front of my eyes. Some of those that have stayed in Prince George have been coming for years, only now with their children's children!
Many of the associates that moved over to IRIS in 2000 are still with the company, and I've known them for many years. I've worked in several locations and come to know many others. Some I still talk with frequently. Others I am happy to see when we meet for training.
There is a warmth that comes with being on this shared journey all this time. Those currently in the Prince George clinic have been together with me for a combined 30 years.
I've also hired many young people and been part of their first job experience. Some of them still drop in from time to time. They have pursued varied careers as teachers, nurses, dental assistants, and optical professions elsewhere. Yet, they've all expressed how much they enjoyed their time here before they've chosen to move on.
What else can you tell us about yourself? Are you involved in any way in your community?
I was born in Germany, as my Dad was stationed overseas with the Canadian Air Forces as a photographer. My Mom and Dad met in the Armed Forces, being married for 52 years. He turned down any promotions to keep our family from moving too much, so after 2 ½ years in Germany, we moved to Ottawa and then, when I was 8 years-old, to Chilliwack. That is where he retired from the military and pursued his childhood passion for photography for the rest of his life. I moved to Powell River after this, where my journey in the optical field began.
I've been married to my wife, Anita, for 29 ½ years now. We enjoy spending time with our 3 married children and our 2 grandchildren, who are 3 ½ years and 14 months old. All of us live in Prince George, so we often get out for walks as a family in the parks and lakes around the area.