Conway man balances medicine with politics

By Tammy Keith Originally Published May 19, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 17, 2013 at 11:39 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Dr. Steve Magie, 59, of Conway takes a break between cases at Baptist Hospital in Little Rock. Magie, an ophthalmologist with Magie-Mabrey Eye Clinic, said he and his partners have clinics in Conway, Little Rock and Fort Smith. Also a Democratic state representative, he just finished his first legislative session.

Dr. Steve Magie of Conway described his temperament as “pretty laid-back,” but then he reconsidered.

“I’m not really too laid-back,” he said, laughing and playing with a rubber band. “I used to be more high strung.”

Magie, an ophthalmologist and a state representative, doesn’t have a lot of time to be laid-back.

Being driven has gotten him where he is today. That, and parents who stressed a work ethic to their eight children.

Magie, 59, said he moved to Morrilton from Memphis when he was in the fourth grade. He also attended first grade in Stuttgart.

“My parents both worked hard,” he said.

A son of Dr. J.J. Magie of Morrilton and the late Margaret Magie, Steve Magie grew up seeing his dad practice medicine — in family practice, as a general surgeon, then as an opthalmologist.

He said his mother ran his father’s medical office, his dad’s other business interests and “kept him in line.”

Magie said his father didn’t allow his teenagers to have jobs while they were in high school.

“He said, ‘No, you need to go to school and concentrate on making good grades.’ The day after school was out, you better have [a job], or Daddy would have you one hauling bricks, or anything,” Magie said.

Magie didn’t follow a direct path to becoming a physician.

He graduated from Morrilton High School and went to the University of Central Arkansas at 17 and originally thought he would pursue pre-med but decided to major in business.

At 18, with a year of college under his belt, he asked his Morrilton girlfriend, Becky, also 18, to marry him.

Yes, now he marvels at how young they were.

“Best thing I ever did,” he said.

He changed his major to chemistry and jumped into medical school without a college degree, something that was allowed in those days.

Magie graduated from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 1980, followed by a general-medicine internship at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. Another change of heart led him to ophthalmology. That required attending Louisiana State University and having a retina fellowship at Touro Hospital in New Orleans.

“I liked medical school,” he said. The atmosphere was more like high school, he said — the instructors gave individualized attention and were nurturing.

“It’s pretty demanding on wives and families,” he said.

By the time he finished medical school, he and his wife had four children.

Magie is one of nine retina specialists in central Arkansas, and Magie-Mabrey has clinics in Conway, Little Rock and Fort Smith. He’s on call every few weeks — on Mother’s Day, he helped a man with a hemorrhage.

“I’ve never had a day when I woke up and didn’t want to go to work,” he said, although he might want more sleep.

“Medicine — it’s really a calling for people,” he said.

Magie, a Democrat, also felt called a couple of years ago to run for political office: state representative.

The reason? Magie paused.

“Momentary loss of my thought process,” he said, laughing.

“Years ago, in the early ’90s, there were some legislative issues that involved medicine, and I began to see how important it was to have your voice at the Capitol,” he said.

“Whether people like it or not, those people down there make laws that can affect your family, your personal life, your business,” he said.

“I said, ‘Gee, when I’m practicing medicine, I can help one person at a time.’ If you’re a legislator, you can help a lot of people at a time.”

David Meeks of Conway defeated Magie in the 2010 general election.

“Political races, to me — they’re hard fought; it’s just the timing and mood of the country at the time,” he said.

Magie ran again in 2012 and defeated Rocky Lawrence.

It was a big learning curve, Magie said.

“You show up on day one, and the gavel goes down, and you’re kind of going, ‘Ooooh, we’re in trouble now,’” he said.

Magie said he didn’t know where to go to write a bill or file it, or what to do when he wanted to amend it.

Veteran legislators are glad to help, he said.

“It was a tremendous educational experience,” he said.

After six or eight weeks in the session, Magie said, he wasn’t happy with the way some health care issues were progressing, and he went to talk with Gov. Mike Beebe.

“I said, ‘I know I’m a freshman legislator, … but I’ve been here six, eight weeks, so I’m no longer a freshman legislator,” he said.

Magie practiced little medicine during the session.

“My partners covered me,” he said.

He found differences between his world as a physician and the political one.

“You know, our patients tell me the truth. Sometimes down there [in the Legislature], people lie to you,” Magie said.

“You begin to develop relationships with people. The only thing you have is your word,” he said.

State Rep. Joe Jett, D-Success, completed his first session in the Legislature, where he got to know Magie.

“He’s a good guy,” Jett said. “I’ll tell you, he’s a first-class, articulate, caring, compassionate person. He’s going to do good in the state Legislature. He’ll end up being a good leader.”

To do the job right, Magie said, it takes a lot of reading at night to prepare for committee meetings.

Magie knew there would be some monkey business in the Legislature, but he didn’t realize he’d be studying primates.

“We had a monkey bill that was going to almost ban the owning of a monkey,” he said.

“I was getting calls. We had people in Conway who own monkeys. I probably read two to three hours about monkey health care.”

Magie said he called a veterinarian to ask questions about monkey diseases, too.

About 50 people showed up to testify about the matter, but Magie said it never came before the committee.

Magie was on the Judiciary Committee, a post in which he learned about the prison system. He also dealt with a bill on sexual predators, which was the toughest subject to research, he said.

A past president of the Arkansas Medical Society, Magie didn’t get on the Health Care Committee because assignments are made based on seniority.

He said the biggest accomplishment of the session was passing the private-option Medicaid expansion bill, of which he was the co-sponsor.

“It was a very close vote,” he said. “That was a difficult issue and took a lot of hard work.”

Magie said a lot of negotiating went on behind the scenes, and he praised how Beebe handled the issue.

“I see the needs that people have for medical care, and I see the lack of access people have,” he said.

Magie said he sees too many people who, through no fault of their own, don’t have health care.

He gave three examples, including a woman putting off getting a breast lesion checked because of the cost, and by the time she went to the doctor, it was metastatic breast disease.

“If we have the financial means, we have an obligation to take care of those people.”

Barring anything “bad happening,” Magie said, he will run again.

“I enjoy it. It’s a real privilege and a real honor to be able to serve and for people to vote you in, … and knowing you make a difference for someone in their life.”

That’s why he enjoys medicine, he said.

“It’s the greatest job in the world.”

Magie might even do more, but there aren’t enough hours in the day. He reads the newspaper but doesn’t watch television, and he’s in bed at 11 and up by 6.

“When you wake up, you put your feet on the floor, you look in the mirror, and you say, ‘What can I do to make myself a better person?’ And the second thing you say is, ‘What can you do today to help someone else make their lives better?

“I’ve just been blessed. God’s been good to me.

“It suits me to do what I do,” Magie said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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