By self-description, Dr. Betty Harville has always been a joyful person who looks for the best in others and usually finds it. On Tuesday at the Southern College of Optometry, others showed that they easily found joy in her. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

by Florence M. Howard —

The expression for joy of living in French is joie de vivre. It is the life philosophy and commitment of Dr. Betty Harville, a trailblazing eye doctor who grooved a trail across the country for others to follow in the field of optometry.

For the last 36 years, Dr. Harville taught courses such as Clinical Communications and Patient Care at Southern College of Optometry (SCO) to the joy of her students and colleagues as she acted out patient scenarios that students would encounter during their careers. Dr. Harville is retiring and on Tuesday (Aug. 25th) she was recognized in a special program held in the school auditorium.

Born in Fayette County (Tenn.), Harville was the only Black student in the 1983 graduating class at Indiana University School of Optometry, the first Black woman optometrist in the State of Tennessee, and the first Black woman in the United States to become a full-time optometry school professor. Magna cum laude graduate of UT Martin, she is the 1975 valedictorian of Fayette-Ware High School in Somerville.

Speakers at Tuesday’s celebration included SCO President Dr. Lewis Reich, colleagues, special guests, and friends – both from the audience and via a video chat hosted by Dr. Janette Pepper.

Her colleague, Dr. Bart Campbell, told Dr. Harville, “The things that you have done will live on with your students.”

Two of her former students, Drs. Mark Kapperman and Conner Kapperman, his son, appeared on live broadcast from Chattanooga to honor her with a $1000 annual SCO scholarship in her name. Conner recounted that the fun-loving Dr. Harville would “go into character” acting out various personality types that her students would meet during their career. Appreciative of the forewarning, he said with a smile, “There are crazy people out there.”

Other program participants included the college’s Human Resources generalist Jan Frazier-Scott, who presented proclamations from the Memphis Branch NAACP and the Shelby County Board of Commissioners. Those appearing via live video included Dr. Sherrol Reynolds, president of the National Optometry Association (NOA); Dr. Ed Marshall, a past NOA president and mentor of Dr. Harville; and Dr. Vera Burns, her friend and colleague. Dr. Reynolds presented a resolution in recognition of Harville’s outstanding career.

The reception also included video salutes from coworkers, family members, neighbors and friends, including her best friend. Gennette Malone.

When she spoke, Harville grinned, called names, and promised, “This is not the last you’ll see of me.”

By self-description, Harville has always been a joyful person who looks for the best in others and usually finds it. At one point, she had no choice but to enter the military to pursue her optometric career at SCO. Luckily, a scholarship from IU came through before she enlisted.

Dr. Harville is married with children. Her two daughters, Veronica and Victoria Brown, attended the reception along with her husband, Irvin, and siblings.

GALLERY: Photos by Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises