AUSTIN, Texas — Hung over, miserable from the heat and a relentless West Texas sun, Larry Don Greenway says he was 18 or 19 when he had his epiphany on a dusty summer day working as welder's assistant on a pipeline in Odessa.
"I figured there was a better way," said Greenway, who turns 75 in October. He decided to become educated in a profession that was fun and allowed him to be his own boss.
Greenway says he found that profession. He is marking his 50th year as an orthopedic surgeon — 43 of them in Austin. He's the oldest among his peers still working full time in the Austin area, and though the work is physically demanding, it's obvious he's still having fun.
"You're doing things with your hands," he said. "Ninety percent of joint replacements are successful. The patients are so grateful you fixed them, and it's very rewarding."
Now Greenway is thinking about retirement, and he's told his partners at Austin Bone and Joint Clinic that he just might do it next year. His patients and one of his sons, Austin lawyer John Greenway, 45, find that hard to imagine.
"All he knows ... is put the pedal to the metal and work," John Greenway said. "That's been his life for so long."
Finding work you love also is key and helps explain his father's longevity, he said.
The senior Greenway, who has a West Texas drawl that betrays his roots, does not have the appearance of a man on his way out the door. He takes pride in the fact that he can still endure long hours in the operating room performing joint replacements and other bone and joint surgeries.
He plays tennis, is an avid snow skier and loves dancing with Anne, his wife of 49 years, especially the cha-cha "and all the Latin rhythms," he says. He looks younger than his age and freely confesses to a little artificial intervention: "I dye my hair," he says.
He's a snappy dresser, and one day last month, he wore a bright orange shirt with a slightly darker orange tie with white polka dots. The colors complemented the orange Texas Capitol logo on his white lab coat as he examined patients at his clinic inside St. David's Medical Center.
After all these years, surgery remains the most fun part of his job, he says. And while he claims the office visits can be grueling, he appears to thoroughly enjoy the patient contact.
"He takes his time with the patients, and his patients will wait for him" if he's delayed in surgery, said Natalie Simmons, a certified medical assistant.
Gertie McGill, an 81-year-old patient, has known Greenway since 1980 and beamed when he entered the exam room.
"I taught his kids to drive," she said, adding that she and her husband had owned a driving school.
As McGill lay on the examining table after she injured her left hip in a fall April 26,
Greenway moved her leg around and asked, "Have you been a good girl and staying on the walker?"
"I have, I have," she said.
"I want to see your exercise sheet," he said, walking out.
After the door closed, McGill said: "I love him. He's a good doctor. Excellent."
Kevin Hopper, a radiologic technologist who has known Greenway since the 1970s, calls Greenway "old school."
"When he sits down with patients, he knows the patients, he knows their families, and he's interested."
Hopper chuckled when he said that Greenway calls X-rays "radiographs" and insists the word is more accurate than the commonly used term.
"Dr. Greenway is very unique, very quick to correct (backslash)u2026 but in a good-natured way," Hopper said.
Practice manager Sharon Tanner , who has been with Greenway since 1974, says she has never seen him angry.
"There's not much that can raise Dr. Greenway's blood pressure," she said.
One trend in medicine comes close: cuts in payments to doctors by insurers.
"Financially, we're getting paid less, so you have to see more volume and you can't spend the time you want with patients," he said. "The office is a grind."
Greenway, who was on the board of the Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas as well as serving as its president, said that whenever he retires, he will know he made the best career choice.
He probably will work part-time afterward, either reviewing other doctors' charts or volunteering his services, he said.
"My wife told me she married me for better or worse," he said, "but not for lunch."
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com