Hindsight, 1980: Dr. Edward Maumenee

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Glaucoma was the topic of choice at the NOAO’s 1980 symposium, and there was no better speaker to invite on the subject than the celebrated Dr. Edward Maumenee, known around the world as “The Prof”.

Born in Mobile, Alabama in 1913 and raised in Birmingham, Maumenee began his medical studies at the University of Alabama and later transferred to Cornell Medical College, where he earned his medical degree in 1938.  His stated goal upon arriving at Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute at Johns Hopkins’ School of Medicine that fall was to not only follow in his father’s footsteps and become an ophthalmologist, but to be the “best ophthalmologist in the world.”

He got a good head start on that goal by studying under the legendary Dr. Alan C. Woods, who had succeeded Dr. William H. Wilmer as the director of the institute.  Dr. Maumenee served as resident ophthalmologist there until 1943, when he went to serve in the Navy for two years before returning as an associate professor.  In 1948 he was named professor of surgery in ophthalmology and chief of the division of ophthalmology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, a position that he held until being appointed the third director of the Wilmer Institute in 1955.  He spent the next 24 years as director there, marking his years with both the physical expansion of the institute, as well as significant advances in ophthalmologic instrumentation, research, and teaching.  About Dr. Maumenee’s tenure as director, Dr. Arnall Patz said:

He brought a whole new perspective to Wilmer when he came…He was one of the pioneers in the use of fluorescein, a dye which allows the physician to photograph the retina as the blood flows through it.  Today, it is a standard diagnostic practice…He had many God-given gifts, incredible wisdom and an uncanny ability to size up a situation quickly and get right to the core of it.  He was a man of marvelous inspiration and was a great man of science.

Dr. Maumenee’s reputation as a dynamic teacher brought medical students from all over the world to the Wilmer Institute.  His work with corneal transplants led to the founding of eye banks throughout the nation, significantly reducing the wait time for patients in need of corneal transplants.  He discovered several new diseases, including congenital corneal dystrophies, and provided the initial description of the immunological nature of corneal graft rejection.  Dr. Maumenee was also instrumental in the founding of the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

He maintained a leadership role in numerous national and international ophthalmic organizations, including serving as the first president of the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology, becoming president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology, the International Congress of Ophthalmology, and the Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology.  In 1990 he became Honorary Life President of the International Council of Ophthalmology, an honor bestowed on only two others in history:  Sir Stewart Duke-Elder, MD, and Professor Jules Francois, MD.

Among Dr. Maumenee’s most prestigious honors was the Howe Medal of the American Ophthalmological Society; the Francis I. Proctor Research Medal; the International Duke-Elder Medal; the Gonin Medal; and the Pisart Vision Award.  He was also inducted into the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame shortly before he died.

“The Prof” died in his sleep on January 18, 1998 at the age of 84 years old.  During the memorial service in his honor near his childhood home in Mobile, Alabama, simultaneous eulogies occurred in more than 35 countries around the globe.

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