Hindsight, 1977: Dr. Marshall Parks, M.D.

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At our 1977 symposium we explored the topic of Strabismus, and were honored to have among our speakers a man known to many as one of the fathers of pediatric ophthalmology, Dr. Marshall Parks.

Dr. Parks was born in 1918 in Old Mission, Michigan, and earned his medical degree from St. Louis University School of Medicine before entering the US Navy to serve as a medical officer during WWII.  After his tour ended with the Navy he moved to Washington DC to study pediatric ophthalmology under his mentor and associate Frank D. Costenbader, the first pediatric ophthalmologist, and together at Children’s Hospital they initiated the first fellowship-training program of any ophthalmology sub-specialty.

Pediatric ophthalmology was a passion of Parks’.  He saw so many children with eye problems, and felt that they needed a specialized physician to attend to their needs.  He and Dr. Costenbader were the first to focus their skills on children’s eye problems, during a time when ophthalmology mainly addressed issues of ageing eyes.  In his words, describing his early career at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital during a 1999 interview:

It was apparent to me right off that none of the other staff members wanted to see the children…They only wanted to see the adults so that troubled me…As a result, I expressed my dissatisfaction and they said, ‘Fine, you see all the children,’ which I loved and I did.

Dr. Parks performed over 40,000 strabismus surgeries and trained more than 160 fellows during his long and dedicated career.  He clarified monofixation syndrome; described and refined numerous eye muscle surgical techniques; recognized and standardized the correction of strabismus before the age of 12 months; and innovated surgical techniques for pediatric cataracts.  He also developed the modern version of the “Head Tilt Test”, which is commonly used to isolate the paretic muscle in acquired vertical diplopia.  In a 2005 interview with Eyeworld Dr. M. Edward Wilson, one of our most recent symposium speakers, had this to say about his former mentor’s surgical technique:

It was like a dance.  There were no wasted motions – each step doesn’t have to be done fast, but there was no awkwardness, the steps were in perfect cadence…I’ve never seen anybody who could operate like that where it looked literally like a dance.

During his career, Dr. Parks held two practices – one in Washington, D. C. and one in Dallas, TX; presented more than 50 named lectures; authored several books, including Ocular Motility and Strabismus in 1975 and Atlas of Strabismus Surgery in 1982; contributed chapters to 26 other books; and published over 65 papers.  He also served as editor or assistant editor for the American Medical Association’s Archives of OphthalmologySurvey of Ophthalmology, and the American Orthoptic Journal.

He became a founding member of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus in 1974 and served as it’s first President.  Parks went on to found the National Children’s Eye Care Foundation and the Costenbader Society, as well as serve as their President.   The American Ophthalmological Society awarded him with the Lucien Howe Medal in 1989.  He was inducted into the Knights of Malta, and was voted by his peers as one of the 10 most influential ophthalmologists of the millennium.  He served as President of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in 1982 and served as the Academy’s host for world guests attending the International Congress of Ophthalmology.  The AAO  later honored him as a 2004 Laureate, as well as created a lecture in his name at their annual meeting.  In their 2004 dedication to him, the AAO wrote:

Dr. Parks’ reserved manner does not reduce his effectiveness in strongly articulating or expressing his point of view when asked for an expert opinion. His boundless energy, his generosity of spirit, and his wisdom have profoundly contributed to the well being of countless patients and professional lives.  His leadership in ophthalmology extends far beyond his own subspecialty area.

Dr. Marshall Parks passed away on July 27th, 2005 at the age of 87.  He and his late wife Angeline left behind 11 children.

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