Explore UAB

by Satina Richardson

Felton Perry, OD, had never planned to have a career in optometry. Forty-five years after beginning work at the UAB School of Optometry, he has retired knowing that he had his perfect career that filled the need for eye care in Alabama communities. 

He planned to attend medical school at UAB following his graduation from Birmingham Southern in 1970. After not being accepted, he received a package from Henry Peters, OD, UABSO’s founding dean, inviting Perry to attend optometry school. Following a meeting with Dean Peters, Perry deciding to attend optometry school, graduating in the class of 1974. This was the School of Optometry’s second graduating class. 

Perry then joined the faculty part-time in 1974 as a part-time clinical assistant professor while operating a private practice. He provided leadership as director of Community Eye Care from 1996 to 2018, becoming the longest-serving director of CEC. He was director of the University Optometric Group from 2012 to 2017. Within the Alabama Optometric Association, he rose through the leadership ranks and served as President in 1986-87. Perry also served the profession as a member of the Optometric Peer Review Committee for the Alabama Medicaid Agency.

Amongst his career highlights are being named Optometrist of the Year by the Alabama Optometric Association and serving on the Alabama Vision Services board of directors. This organization eventually became VSP Vision Care. 

“I had a chance to be involved in the growth of VSP from a state by state level all the way to the national level,” he said. 

Another highlight for Perry was working on the Black Belt clinic initiative to provide eye and vision care in Alabama’s poorest region. He partnered with Mary Jean Sanspree, PhD, former director and associate scientist of education and research in Vision Science Research, and Shirley Wilson, EdS, Black Belt Adult Eye Care Clinic Project Coordinator, on the initiative. This program, begun in 2002, continues today and has provided care to more than 13,000 patients in underserved communities. 

His passion has always been patient care, especially as an attending doctor for CEC, the community outreach arm of the UAB School of Optometry. Perry and his interns provided pediatric and adult screening services in public and private schools, daycare centers, senior citizen centers, career days, and health fairs throughout Jefferson County and surrounding communities. Perry and interns also provided primary eye care services within the Jefferson County Department of Health, United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham, the Lovelady Center, The Foundry, M-Power Ministries Health Clinic, and the UAB PATH Clinic. He and his interns also provided eye care using portable instruments at a number of Birmingham area nursing homes.  

“Giving back to the community was always something I felt like was important,” he said. “I am an Alabama native and when I went to the UAB School of Optometry I was able to benefit from in-state tuition. Part of my tuition was paid for by the state, so I wanted to serve the community to pay that back.”

Perry misses the daily routine of interacting with faculty staff and students, watching the light bulb go off in the face of the intern that gets it. He said that something you just can’t replace. He misses being on the admissions committee as well. 

“I have had the opportunity to work with some of the smartest people in optometry over the years,” he shared. “I don’t count myself among them, but am fortunate to be able to learn from them.”

In retirement, Perry and his wife hope to travel, have church activities, and spend time with kids and grandkids who are close by. He hopes to attend CE programs and contribute to the school and the profession in the state where he can to above all support the school of optometry. 

“Optometry has been good to me,” Perry said.