‘A culture of excellence’

Tim Unruh Special to The Telegram
From left, Dr. Bill Clifford, Dr. Luther Fry, Ardis Fry, and Dr. Eric Fry, at Fry Eye Associates in Garden City.

A few very simple and noble traits defined Dr. Luther Fry from the day he began practicing ophthalmology in southwest Kansas.

Starting in Dodge City in 1974 and moving in 1978 to Garden City, Luther and Ardis Fry built a practice considered to be among the best in North America, doing cataract surgeries on patients from as far away as Pakistan and Caracas, Venezuela. In the early days of intraocular lens implants, some of the more “conservative” practices on the East Coast, prompted some referrals to Fry.

“He worked hard on his patients,” said Eugene Kemper, technical auditor and facility manager at Fry Eye Associates. Next month, he will celebrate 41 years working in the practice.

“He left no stone unturned. When patients walked out of that (clinic), they were thoroughly examined,” he said. “When Dr. Fry went to meetings, he was there to learn and look at the new equipment. He would buy the first issuing of a new piece of technology, even though he knew that in four years, it would be four times better (and would be replaced).”

Fry’s medical practice “was like a ministry to him,” Kemper said. “He took care of a lot of people who couldn’t pay. He was very generous.”

During a conference in Florida, Kemper said the schedule included time so the doctors could enjoy some recreation, so there were no meetings.

“Dr. Fry knocked on my door. He said, ‘Let’s go down there so we don’t miss anything. I showed him the schedule, and he said, ‘That’s for people who want to party. I am here to learn.’ ”

The conference center was deserted, so Fry and Kemper crashed an optometry conference that day.

“He was all about stuffing as much into his brain as he could. His heart really does pump ophthalmology blood,” Kemper said. “This is an avocation to him. It’s his life and it still is.”

Luther Fry is well-known for his work ethic.

“My dad has always been a super hard worker, six to seven days a week,” said Dr. Eric Fry, his eldest son and 12 years a partner in the practice. Early on, Eric was interested in medicine, possibly dentistry, but not in ophthalmology.

“Ever since I was young, everybody thought I would follow in my dad’s footsteps. The response was always ‘no.’  He built an unbelievable practice. I kinda wanted to blaze my own trail.”

Once into medical school at the University of Kansas, eye surgery turned enticing to him.

“You could fix and make people better than they ever had been before,” Dr. Eric said.

Being able to restore sight has proven fulfilling.

“The thought of having happy patients was one of the main drivers,” he said. “It’s amazing. Somebody comes in and they have bilateral mature cataracts and can only see light and dark. You do a great procedure on them, and immediately afterward, they can see. You’re able to bring it all back.”

Patients embrace you in gratitude, he said, more-so when the practice does mission work.

Folks have flocked to the Fry Eye clinic from all over the continent, both as patients and partners.

“Luther proves the theory that if you do something extremely well, people will beat a path to your door,” said Dr. Bill Clifford, ophthalmologist who joined Fry in 1995.

“He focused on cataract surgery and became one of the best in the world at it,” Clifford said. “He’s not just a practitioner, but an innovator.”

Dr. Luther “created the environment and set the bar to create excellence,” Dr. Clifford said, and what endures is “a culture of excellence.”