An award-winning receptionist has been reflecting on almost four decades of loyal service at a well-known Carrickfergus town centre optical practice.
Irene Gaston’s contribution to R.A. Glass Optometrists and Associates was marked with a special celebration at the Market Place premises ahead of her retirement.
Looking back on a career that started in October 1981, Irene said: “Typical daily tasks back then included repairs, cleaning glasses, fitting glasses, cash handling, lodgements, dispensing glasses, contact lens handling, appointment systems, writing orders, purchasing frames and solutions.
“In addition, I made appointments for representatives visiting and appointment schedules for various transient opticians coming through the practice. In most recent years, the addition of computer systems modified daily practices, however, manual records had to be kept for legal reasons.
“In the early 80s I was located at 12 Market Place, sandwiched between Hilditch’s fish shop and the Mace foodstore. Thankfully Lily Robinson from the Bamboo Rooms above us dropped down delicious homemade apple pie and the occasional bacon buttie for sustenance on the busiest of days.”
As well as the practice moving to larger premises at Market Place, Irene saw her role evolving too.
“The biggest change was in the late 80s when Cawoods Fuels moved out of 5 Market Place and R A Glass jumped at the chance to expand and we have been there ever since. I worked with external agencies such as Central Eye Services (NHS), Castle and United Optical and various frame suppliers. My days were elastic in that I never went home until the day’s work was done!
“I have loved every minute of my 38 years working at RA Glass opticians. It felt like a big family with everlasting friendships including staff across six branches, patients and suppliers. ”
Ronnie Glass, optometrist managing director, thanked Irene for her effort and support down the years.
Recalling her instant impact in 1981, Mr Glass said: “What a woman; she was a whirling tornado, industrious with a thirst for knowledge and full of energy; the place had never been so well organised and clean.
“Seven months later in May 1982, Yvonne (Dobbin) joined us - first part time then quickly full time. They formed a dream team which lasted for nearly 30 years until Yvonne retired.
“During that time we supervised 28 pre-registration optometrists and dispensing opticians. Some of the optometrists are still with us as associates, partners and directors and they all appreciated the help that Irene, Yvonne, Esdale (Hyndman) and other members of staff freely gave them.
“The practice originally occupied only the ground floor of No 12 but became so busy that we had to open up the first floor which was found to be full of soot; we often left the practice like chimney sweeps during the renovations!
“Irene quickly discovered her talent for window dressing and produced many fabulous displays which won prizes over countless years. She also has an eye for frame selection and helped not only with buying the frames but advising patients on the optimum style, shape and size of frame for their appearance and prescription.”
Presenting Irene with a gift on her retirement, Mr Glass added: “Irene, this is a sad day for me, you have been a loyal friend to me for the past 38 years and I am sorry to see you go.”
As she steps away from the familiar surrounds of Market Place, Irene plans a break before opening a new chapter in her life. “Going forward, at the ripe old age of 72, I plan to go on a much needed holiday and spend time with family.”
And then? “Watch this space!”