“I am not retiring.” The trim, tan optometrist, Dr. David Finkelstein, repeats himself. “I am not retiring.” He has, however, brought Island-grown Dr. Ryan Shea into his practice, and the clear plan is for Dr. Shea to become the prominent partner.
Over the course of several years the two have worked together to see how they fit as partners. According to Dr. Finkelstein they fit like a glove. “He’s just like me,” he said.
In his 40th year of practicing optometry on the Vineyard, Dr. Finkelstein will be 66 this year. “I wasn’t looking for someone to come into my practice,” he said. But, three years ago Dr. Shea, who had graduated from the same optometry school as Dr. Finkelstein did, New England College of Optometry in Boston, began asking if they might work together.
Living in Sandwich and working on the Cape, Dr. Shea and his wife thought they would like to move back to the Island where both were born and raised. Dr. Finkelstein began letting Dr. Shea observe him at work.
“I wasn’t working Wednesdays so he began working Wednesdays,” Dr. Finkelstein said. “It’s been great. He has the same energy I have.”
The two optometrists decided that after two years if they still liked working together they would talk about Dr. Shea joining the practice. After the two years, during which time Dr. Shea established his own practice on the Cape, they developed a “five- to ten-year plan,” according to Dr. Finkelstein. Dr. Shea will work for Dr. Finkelstein for five years, then he will take over the practice, and Dr. Finkelstein will work for Dr. Shea for however long he wishes after that.
“We are in the third year of that plan,” Dr. Finkelstein said. “Dr. Shea is working three days a week, and I am working two days a week. In three years, Dr. Shea will own the practice.
“Our practice has grown since Dr. Shea joined me. We are now open five days a week and, as always, we never turn down an emergency.”
While they both love life on the Island and share many similarities, their backgrounds are very different. Dr. Finkelstein grew up in New York’s old Hell’s Kitchen and knew he didn’t want to work in his dad’s butcher’s shop the rest of his life. He was attending Fairleigh Dickenson University when he heard someone mention Martha’s Vineyard. He took a bus to the Island one summer and, except for finishing his education and a short stint working in Boston, he’s been here pretty much since.
On his first trip to the Island, he answered a newspaper ad for a nanny for an up-Island summer family. He was not expecting to get the job because of his gender, but he was hired. He is proud of the relationships he established in those years with many “old-time, up-Island Vineyard families” and the many up-Island kids he babysat for three summers in the sixties.
One summer Mr. Finkelstein, a 20-year-old college student living in Oak Bluffs, saw three 19-year-old art students drawing in Oak Bluffs, day after day. He sensed an opportunity one night when the art students were grilling dinner outside. He bought some meat from Reliable Market and approached them, saying, “Hey girls, my grill is broken, can I share your grill with you. That was my opening line. I didn’t know which of the girls it would be. They said yes, and the running joke is, ‘I stayed for chocolate cake.'”
One of the girls was Molly, and three years later, in 1970, they married on the Vineyard. “We were so naïve. We both went to work the next day.” They have two children and five grandchildren.
“I am content here on the Vineyard,” Dr. Finkelstein said. “Gardening is one of my passions, meditation in the dirt.” He is an accomplished golfer and he was an avid fisherman and a charter member of the informal Gefilte Fish Club, with Sherman Goldstein, and his best friend and neighbor, both at work and home, the late Dr. Bob Post among others.
The 29-year-old Dr. Shea grew up in Edgartown, the son of builder Mark and Susan Shea, a former teacher. He attended the Edgartown School and met his future wife, Rachael Cottle, who grew up in West Tisbury, at the Regional High School. He went to Pratt Institute in New York, to study architecture, for one year. It wasn’t a good fit, he said, so he transferred to the University of Massachusetts Boston, and while trying to decide which profession he wanted to pursue, he shadowed an optometrist. He discovered that optometry was it.
During his first year at the New England College of Optometry, Mr. Shea approached Dr. Finkelstein for a community analysis project, a lesson in how to determine a community’s optometry needs. They struck up a relationship that, a few years later, developed into a partnership.
Early in his career Dr. Shea, his wife, and two dogs lived in a shed on his parents’ property in Edgartown while he commuted to the mainland for work four days a week, and his wife worked as a social worker at Windemere. High Vineyard real estate prices led them to buy a house off Island, in Sandwich. Dr. Shea eventually set up a practice in Weymouth. They now rent in Vineyard Haven, and they signed on the purchase of a Vineyard Haven house just last week.
“It was great to come back to the Island,” Dr. Shea said. “Until now I have never lived in the same town I worked in. I can now walk home for lunch. I have seen my two kids more in the last three months than in the last two years.”
Dr. Shea practices mixed martial arts, and he’s a member of the medical advisory board for the state athletic commission, which oversees mixed martial arts and boxing.
Both optometrists say they love their work, and they get noticeably animated when talking about their practice.
“You’re working with people, helping them out. You really get to know people and their stories on an individual basis. Every exam we do is tailored to that person. Every person’s needs are different,” Dr. Shea said.
“You see, he’s just like me. That’s how I would describe it,” said Dr. Finkelstein, non-retiring and definitely not retired.