Hindsight, 1967: Baron Professor E. Jules Francois

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Surgical and Medical Management of Congenital Anomalies was the topic of our 1967 Symposium, where we were honored to have on our faculty world-renowned Belgian Professor E. Jules Francois.

Dr. Francois was born in Gingelom, Belgium, and received his medical degree from the University of Leuven.  He became a lecturer at the University of Gent in 1949, and soon after a professor of ophthalmology.  By 1965 he was the chairman of the University Eye Clinic of Gent, and in little time made the clinic world famous. A year later he was awarded the most important medal one can achieve in ophthalmology, the Gonin Medal, which is presented periodically to the ophthalmologist who has contributed the most to the advancement of ophthalmology.

During this time Dr. Francois was awarded numerous international medals, received honors from countries around the world, and contributed a prolific amount of literature to the field, spanning his interests in ophthalmic medicine, surgery, genetics, pathology and physiology, totaling 1,870 papers and 34 books that he either authored or co-authored over a span of 50 years.  In addition, ophthalmologists from over 30 countries received their training in Gent.

In 1982 Dr. Francois was made the first ever recipient of the Duke-Elder international medal, named in honor of this close friend, the late renowned ophthalmologist Sir Stewart Duke-Elder, and presented by Sir Duke-Elder’s wife and the International Council of Ophthalmology.  A year later, he was awarded the title of “Baron” by the King of Belgium, an acknowledgement of the contributions to ophthalmology and the world over.

The early 80s saw Dr. Francois receiving a number of medals and honors, as well as fellowships, lectureships, and prizes named after him out of respect for his brilliant mind.  In 1984, while vacationing in Switzerland, Dr. Francois passed away in his sleep.  The following is what Dr. Derrick Vail, who spoke at our symposium in 1956, said as he presented Dr. Francois with the Gonin Medal in 1966:

Jules Francois is particularly worthy of being added to the eminent company of immortals.  He is a highly skilled and effective clinician and ophthalmic surgeon, bringing the fruits of his laboratory studies personally to the bedside, where he is a great teacher.  He has contributed many scientific papers to our international literature, in addition to authoritative textbooks and monographs on congenital cataracts, hereditary diseases, gonioscopy, toxoplasmosis, tapetoretinal degeneration, physiology of the eye, biochemistry and lens proteins, vascularisation of the eye and optic tract, electroretinography and so on.  Indeed, in addition to the well-known “Encyclopedie d’Opthalmologie Francaise” we have available to us who collect his writings, an “Encyclopedie d’Opthalmolgie Francois.”  As one of the great ophthalmologists in the world, the Leonardo da Vinci of our specialty, he shares one other quality with the other six Gonin laureates (Alfred Vogt, 1941; Pal Baillart, 1945; Hermenegildo Arruga, 1950; Stewart Duke-Elder, 1954; Alan C. Woods, 1958; Hans Goldmann, 1962), besides the complete dedication of his life to the advancement of ophthalmology, he does not sleep much.


Jules Francois, dearly loved friend of all of us in our particular world, boon companion of our lighter moments, our mentor and guide in our need and efficient servant to our Council and Federation, I am deeply moved by the honour of presenting to you this beautiful Gonin Medal, that you so richly deserve.

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