By Bobbie Poynter / Features Editor
As a Korean War marine radio telegraph operator, young Robert Edward Mackey returned home in 1957 to Barbourville with an open mind on how he would spend his future. With a little prodding from Dr. Marcum, a friend and optometrist, Mackey set his sights — pun intended — on becoming an optometrist himself.
After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree at Union College, Mackey continued his education at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn., earning his Doctorate of Optometry.
Returning home, Dr. Mackey and his wife Dolores settled in Corbin, and in January 1964 and opened a small office on North Main Street across from the old City Hall.
Quickly outgrowing the small building, in 1970 Dr. Mackey moved into a larger building on First Street behind what used to be the Corbin Deposit Bank.
Finally, after working long hours — of which the doctor says he loved every minute — and saving back monies for their dream, in 1975 the Mackeys built and opened the Mackey Vision Center on Commonwealth Avenue.
As the business grew, so did the Mackey family with the addition of four children, not to mention 11 grandchildren ranging from three to 23 years old.
Eldest son John D. Mackey, like his father, is an optometrist and currently works in Lexington. Daughter Sharon Mackey followed her father into the medical field works as a pharmacist, also in Lexington. The Mackeys’ third son, Alan, retired an Air Force B-52 bomber pilot and then as a pilot for American Airlines.
Finally, Mackey’s youngest son Ben, who is himself an opthomologist, will take the reins of the Mackey Vision Center from his father and carry on the family’s legacy, with the help of a loyal staff and the welcome addition of Dr. Jason Howard, an optometrist from Pikeville, who recently joined the crew.
Dr. Bobby Mackey officially retired from the business in January 2014, but the senior Mackey has all the confidence in the world in his son and knows he’s leaving the business in good hands.
“The business will probably run even better without me,” laughed the elder Mackey. “The young people will do the job as good or better than I would, in my opinion.”
Bobby said he and his wife, Dolores, are actually looking forward to his retirement.
“We like to travel and garden,” he said. “We have about five acres that takes a big lot of our time. We’ll have enough to do to keep us busy. I’ll miss seeing and talking to all these folks, but I think I can get used to not having a schedule. It may take a while, but I think I can adjust to not having something and somewhere to be all the time.”
Dr. Bobby Mackey is pleased with his decision to settle down in a small town versus a large city.
“I don’t like the larger atmosphere,” he explained. “A business is better when it’s steadily grown. I’ve enjoyed the interaction with the staff here in the office. If I needed to take off, I could simply take off — which I really didn’t do very much.
“Here you can get to know the people. I’m a people person, and in the big city you kind of get lost. The City of Corbin has been really good to us, and it’s been a very satisfactory experience.”
So what is Dr. Bobby Mackey’s philosophy for achieving such a successful long-standing business?
“Be the first one to work, do the best job you can while you’re there, take good care of the people you work with, and be the last one to leave — at least, that’s what my daddy told me.”
Then he added the importance of staying involved both personally and professionally with the community. The Mackey Vision Center is a long-time member of the Chamber of Commerce and also partners with the Corbin Lions Club to help provide vision care for those who cannot afford it. The Mackeys are members of Poplar Grove Baptist Church, long-time members of the USA Ballroom Dance, Cumberland Valley Chapter No. 2056 and are both Corbin Master Gardeners.
Dr. Mackey is a former president of both the Kentucky Optometric Association and Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners. He was voted the Kentucky Optometrist of the Year in 1984. He recently retired from the Knox County Board of Health after serving nearly 22 years.
A retirement party in Dr. Bobby Mackey’s honor will take place at the Corbin Center (below the Corbin Arena) from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, March 8. The family is extending an open invitation to former patients and associates of the Mackey Vision Center. RSVPs are requested for planning purposes by calling 528-1143 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.