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Snellgrove passes away at 89

The community has had to bid farewell to a long-time Camellia City medical professional noted for his dedication, discipline and deep wisdom. Dr.  Louis LaDon “Don” Snellgrove, 89, who passed away on June 27 after a sudden illness, was laid to rest on Saturday, July 1 in Magnolia Cemetery in Greenville.

The Ozark native, a graduate of Dale County High School and the Illinois College of Optometry, began his optometry practice in Greenville in 1949. He and his wife Margaret married in August 1952 and shortly thereafter, Snellgrove was called to active duty in the U.S. Army. Closing his local practice, the Snellgroves moved to San Antonio, Texas, and later New York City, where he served as an optometrist for the military.

In 1955, Snellgrove re-opened his Greenville practice, where he served his patients until 2007, retiring at age 80.

Dr. Caleb Gardner of Gardner Eye Care in Greenville took over Snellgrove’s practice. He says he counts himself blessed to have worked alongside such a dedicated and wise individual, one who never lost interest in and enthusiasm for the practice of his profession.

“ Even after retiring, Dr Snellgrove would still travel with me to our ‘Zone meetings’ (South Central Zone of the Alabama Optometric Association (ALOA), which met once per month. Dr. Adams from Monroeville, Dr. Snellgrove and Dr. Bedsole started that study group over 50 years ago and it has met continuously ever since,” says Gardner.

“Dr. Snellgrove was president of the ALOA at the time the UAB School of Optometry was being established, and he played a key role in getting that school here in Alabama. As a graduate of that school, I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Snellgrove for his efforts in establishing it.”

Snellgrove attended numerous post graduate courses at UAB’s School of Optometry and was named Optometrist of the Year in 1968. He never stopped working for the betterment of his profession.

“He was such a good doctor,” Gardner recalls. “I still have patients who ask about him even ten years after he retired. Once a year we would trade up on eye exams: I would do his and he would do mine.  Even with my knowledge of the mechanics and optics of the exam, I would still find myself in awe–almost as if something magical was happening–as he turned the dials and cleared my vision.

“He just had a unique way about him that inspired confidence. He always had time for his patients. I reviewed a chart just this past week of a patient he began seeing in 1951 and saw him yearly until 2007. Can you imagine any doctor-patient relationship spanning 56 years these days? Amazing.”

Robyn Norman, a Gardner Eye Care employee who formerly worked for Snellgrove, describes him as “the best boss anyone could ever have.”

“I first worked for him for two years right after Steve and I were married, before our son Ben came along,” Norman says. “Then I spent seven years at the office before he retired. Dr. Snellgrove was very kind, always thoughtful—never a hard word. We had a list to do each day, so you knew what your job was.”

And you always felt valued, Norman emphasizes.

“When we left at the end of the day, most days he would say, ‘Thank you, ladies, I appreciate your good work.’ I have been loved by the Snellgrove family for 40 years. Mrs. Margaret is as dear as Dr Snellgrove was.”

The dedicated doctor’s wife and two children, Beth and John, meant the world to him.

“He loved his family,” Gardner says.

“He had been married to Mrs. Margaret for almost 65 years.  As much as Dr. Snellgrove loved his work and felt an obligation to care for his patients, he found family time more important.

“In fact, one year when Beth and John were old enough to enjoy a road trip, Dr. Snellgrove took off the entire month of June and the family drove all over the USA, a month long road trip.  When I asked him how he could afford such a thing, as when a solo private practice doctor is absent, there is no generation of revenue, he simply responded that that year the Snellgrove family lived off 11/12ths. Makes sense, but it requires much discipline.”

Snellgrove’s discipline and dedication showed in other ways throughout his life. He was a faithful longtime member of the First Baptist Church of Greenville, serving as church treasurer, deacon, Sunday School superintendent, and Sunday School teacher for over 35 years, and substitute teacher for an additional 30 years. Snellgrove was also a dedicated member of the Greenville Kiwanis  for half a century, and a member and past president of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

“Dr. Snellgrove had perfect attendance at Kiwanis for over 40 years, even going out of his way to find a local Kiwanis meeting while on vacations,” Gardner says, adding that Snellgrove was also a member of Gideon’s International, visiting more than 60 churches in Alabama as a representative of Gideons and helping distribute Bibles both here and abroad.

Gardner says he will never forget the influence Snellgrove had, and will continue to have, on his life, both personal and professional.

“I owe any success I have as an optometrist in Greenville to Dr. Snellgrove,” he says.

“If I manage somehow to live a balanced life; if when I’m old, my children still adore me; if when I’ve retired my patients still ask about me, it will be in large part because I have applied the pearls of wisdom Dr. Snellgrove was so gracious to impart to me along the way.”