Remembering Brien Holden

August 7, 2015

Two weeks ago the optometric profession heard the shocking news that Professor Brien Holden, PhD, DSc, OAM, had passed away suddenly. Brien was larger than life, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking that such an event wouldn’t be happening any time soon. Sadly, we were wrong.

Two weeks ago the optometric profession heard the shocking news that Professor Brien Holden, PhD, DSc, OAM, had passed away suddenly. Brien was larger than life, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking that such an event wouldn’t be happening any time soon. Sadly, we were wrong.

I had spoken with Brien only weeks earlier in Liverpool at the BCLA meeting. He chaired a session on myopia management and delivered a typical Brien Holden lecture-informative, research-filled, funny, and inspiring-on managing myopia with contact lenses. Our story highlighting that lecture was the top-read piece in our BCLA coverage.

Related: Brien Holden on contact lens myopia management

Brien was the first person to be showcased in our Q&A column when it launched in January 2014. I was honored that he agreed to kick off this new feature in Optometry Times. If you missed it, I hope you’ll check it out: http://ow.ly/QCIhi.

Related: Brien Holden Q&A

He was always happy to speak to anyone interested in learning more about his work. Collaborating with others and facilitating new research and insights was his specialty.

Over my 26-year career in optometry, I’ve looked forward to the times when our paths would cross-from discussing the launch of a revolutionary silicone hydrogel contact lens to working with Optometry Giving Sight to learning about innovations to help curb preventable blindness worldwide. Brien was gracious to work with, inspiring to say the least, and entertaining always. I will miss him.

Related: New technologies to improve global eye health

Those who worked with him are far better than I to comment on Brien’s life and his work. See what they had to say.

Next: Beloved husband, dad, grandfather, brother, friend, mentor, and colleague

 

Beloved husband, dad, grandfather, brother, friend, mentor, and colleague

Desmond Fonn, MOptom, FAAO

Distinguished Professor Emeritus, School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Waterloo

Brien Holden passed away at the age of 73, pretty young according to today’s standards. His departure was sudden, and fortunately he didn’t suffer. I think he died as he would have liked-holding a beer in a pub while talking to close friend Dr. Serge Resnikoff while waiting for his wife and daughter-in-law to join them for dinner.

Brien was my best friend, and his sudden departure should not have happened because it has shocked the world. At least we should have had time to say goodbye.

His family and friends needed more time with him, his profession needed more of his time, so did all the organizations which he was part of, his hundreds of colleagues and collaborators and certainly the contact lens fraternity. He more than any other individual shaped the contact lens industry and how we practice contact lenses.

Brien was a generous, principled, sensitive, brutally honest, caring, lovely, humanitarian with unparalleled integrity whose ultimate goal was to commercialize the research efforts of the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) and pour those profits into vision care for the millions of underprivileged people. BHVI at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney was established in 2010 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to eye care research.

He was the most optimistic and charismatic person I have ever known. He lived life to the fullest, no half measures in work or play. He was often the last man dancing at the Australia parties and up the next day after a few hours sleep, seemingly fully charged and ready to tackle the next project.

His aim was to continue working until 2020, but we knew he would never stop because there was always something new to be accomplished, something that only he saw as achievable whereas most others would have thought it impossible.

If you were in his company or part of a meeting with him, you could feel the magnificence of his presence and command. He demanded evidence and scientific detail to support whatever endeavor he was charged up about, but he was always a “big picture” person.

Dr. Earl Smith, dean of the University of Houston College of Optometry, described Brien as the most influential optometrist of our generation when Brien was awarded the Prentice Medal last year, the American Academy of Optometry’s highest honor.

Brien was never in it for personal gain but was driven by the money that could be made to enable BHVI to provide vision for everyone. He leaves a legacy of striving to improve contact lens wear and the encouragement to achieve the humanitarian goals he set.

Rest in peace, my dear friend.

Image courtesy of Brien Holden Vision Institute

Next: Kindness, loyalty, and friendship

 

Kindness, loyalty, and friendship

Rick Franz, OD, FAAO

Laguna Beach, CA

We recently lost the guiding light of ophthalmic research, contact lenses, and public health. Much has been and will be written about Brien Holden’s legacy, his contributions to optometry and mankind, but I would like to write about Brien Holden as my friend. Many colleagues will be able to do much better justice to describing his professional accomplishments, but I think I can better explain who he was as a friend and person.

Behind all the bravado and hutzpah was the largest and kindest heart I have ever known. The depth of his friendship found no bottom, and the magnitude of his kindness was without bounds. Finding those attributes in a person is extremely rare today.

We first met in 1981 at the B+L European Symposium, which we co-moderated. It was a rather rocky start because I just wasn’t accustomed to a personality like Brien’s. But by the end of the meeting, we had started an incredibly close friendship which has lasted for 35 years. There are too many stories to share here about his fun loving character, but needless to say, if you ever met Brien, you know what I mean.

Brien was an incredibly loyal friend. For the last 30+ years, he has made time in his busy schedule to come to my cabin in Ohio to be with friends at the so-called “Ohio Research Symposium.” As a founding member of the Australian Scottish League of International Corneal Assessors (ASLICAS) golf tournament, his friendship and golf skills, or lack thereof, extended around the world. Brien flew from Russia to be at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. And he was present during difficult times-he showed up at my parents’ and in-laws funerals. Whenever there was an important event or a time when I needed love and support, Brien would find a way to get there.

He was an advisor, a counselor, a colleague, but mostly a true friend. Just a few weeks ago he spent a few days in our home, and we joked about getting old and what we still wanted to accomplish.

My heart is sad, and I have a huge empty space in my life now that Brien is not here. It is hard to believe that he will not come through the door with a huge smile and a big hug.

Brien will be missed by everyone he has touched, his contributions to our profession will stop, but his legacy will live forever. The dedicated colleagues at Brien Holden Vision Institute will continue his good work and provide insight and knowledge to our profession, but it just won’t be quite the same without the “big guy” being around.

Rest in peace, Brien. You can now get some of that much-needed rest we talked about. We love you.

Next: Larger than life

 

Larger than life

Clive Miller

CEO, Optometry Giving Sight

Like many people, I had heard of the legendary Brien Holden long before I actually met him. He had the reputation of being a great scientist, humanitarian, optometrist, and as we say in Australia, a bit of a larrikin.

The man I finally met was all those things, but he was also charming, charismatic, inspiring, frustrating, and as I was to find, unbelievably thoughtful and generous.

I still remember the day he came to my father’s funeral. Not because he ever met my Dad. He didn’t even know me that well. But he came because he wanted to support me in a time of great emotional turmoil. It was an act of incredible kindness and one that I still appreciate.

He liked to say when he first assumed responsibility for Optometry Giving Sight he had created a fundraising organization but that no one really knew enough about professional fundraising. That was not true. Brien was the most amazing fundraiser-he had the ability to inspire people everywhere to share and support his vision of a world in which everyone has access to the vision care they need.

Brien always gathered wonderful people around him. He inspired them to think big and really own this audacious dream that by working together, changing the game, and mobilizing serious resources we could forever transform the lives of the millions of people in need of affordable and accessible eye and vision care.

Brien’s passing is an incredible shock. He was one of those people who seemed like they would always just be there: full of seemingly impossible ideas, forever challenging those around him to keep up, be ready for the next opportunity, and still have enough energy and humor to get together at the end of the day to share a drink or dinner, stories of the day, and of course, plan new ones for tomorrow.

Larger than life barely begins to describe Brien, but he has left us a huge legacy and will continue to inspire us all for years to come. 

Image courtesy of Brien Holden Vision Institute

Next: A tear in our eye

 

A tear in our eye

Joseph T. Barr, OD, MS, FAAO

Emeritus professor at The Ohio State University College of Optometry

Like many in optometry, I first knew Brien as he lectured on his team’s latest research at an Academy meeting. I was a graduate student, and within a year had a lifetime experience of getting to know Brien better when he did his sabbatical at Ohio State in the late 1970s.

He was a role model for many of us as a clinical researcher and demonstrating never to be afraid of challenging the status quo in cornea research-turning the heads of leading cornea researchers of the time. Endothelial blebbing caused by a contact lens? The stroma thins in long-term soft contact lens wear?

Brien was always fun to be with while we all learned. One day in a lab at Ohio State, he and Steve Zantos had a rabbit wearing a contact lens with nitrogen blowing across its cornea. The tape recorder was on, and Steve and I watched Brien observe the rabbit’s corneal endothelium.

“We have a rabbit, and his name is Briar, Briar Rabbit,” said Brian in his exaggerated Aussie. “And Briar has no !@#$ing blebs,” Brian announced loudly.

Steve and I howled in laughter. That lab was a room about 10 feet x 10 feet and was full of gas cylinders, slit lamps, and other research instruments, a few stools, half-empty coffee cups, donut parts, and a few other objects from past meals. It was in Richard Hill’s pristine, nearly sterile, white lab area. Brian apologized to Dick Hill for keeping the room so messy. Dick, always one to understate while being appreciative of Brien’s work, said, “That’s OK, Brien. We’ll just close the door.”

Later, when Karla Zadnik persuaded me to nominate Brien for an honorary degree at Ohio State, he could not have been more gracious in thanking Dick for his hospitality and support when he was visiting there.

He is the most well-known, bright, motivational leader and philanthropist in optometry and loved by so many. We all have a tear in our eye when we talk about Brien-a good laugh as well. We feel privileged to have known him and the work of his teams.

Next: A wild, magical optometry journey

 

A wild, magical optometry journey

Glenda Secor, OD, FAAO

Huntington Beach, CA

Like our entire eyeball family, I am shocked and saddened to hear that we have lost a giant. Brien Holden educated, enlightened, and entertained us with his wit, wisdom, and passion. We recognized his brilliance and his hope that the world’s vision could be improved by optometry's intelligence, research, and generosity.

As a past education chair for the California Optometric Association (COA), AOA’s Annual Meeting and the AAO’s Ellerbrock Committee, I was always able to count on Brien’s research presentations being clinically relevant. Practitioners like me were able to use his research and those he inspired to enhance our patient care and expand our clinical tool box in contact lenses. Before PowerPoint, I remember him putting together a lecture, the hour before he was scheduled to speak, by leafing through pages of slides that covered his assigned topic. While at times his lectures were controversial, they always inspired questions and provided a platform for change.

Like many of Brien’s friends, the stories will always make me smile. I have personal memories of whale watching in Maui harbor during a COA education meeting in 1989. We didn’t see many whales but had great onboard adult beverages to make the experience memorable.

nother memory was Brien sitting next to my husband and me at an American Optometric Foundation luncheon, sharing rugby stories. My husband happened to be wearing an “All Blacks” sweater from the New Zealand rugby team-the vile opponent of Australia’s Wallabys. After the Academy dumped its lackluster annual Hoftbrau dinners at the Annual Meeting, Brien began the legendary Australia party after his personal suite became too small.

Nothing is better than joining a group of respected researchers, youthful students, stiff academics, and boring clinicians rocking to slide shows of Australia while eating pizza and drinking Foster’s beer. I hope the Academy will not break this tradition in his memory.

While contact lenses were his gift, global eye care was his passion. He dreamed of a world in which the need for vision correction due to uncorrected refractive error and the plight of progressive myopia has vanished. Brien’s humanitarian vision created optometry’s philanthropy Optometry Giving Sight.

He felt poor vision was a worldwide disability which impacts every aspect of a person’s life.

Regardless of Brien’s physical presence, optometry must continue to lead and contribute to improving the quality of people’s lives by simple refractive correction. We must also continue to reach for his most recent goal of preventing and treating myopia and the associated visual conditions linked to its pathology.

Brien’s contribution was recognized often, and he was recipient of the Academy’s highest honor, the 2014 Charles F. Prentice Medal. He spoke about his 50-year career and the major events in his life. His recurring message was the impact of the people in his life who were generous and collaborative “giants.” His sentiment about his family, collaborators, and the untold millions of people impacted by his life makes us all grateful.

While I was incoming chair of the AOA’s Contact Lens and Cornea Section, Brien made an extra effort to attend Optometry’s Meeting to receive the Legend’s Award from the Section. Like Babe Ruth’s famous quote, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die,” Brien let us come along on his wild, magical optometry journey. His gift to us is the generosity of his spirit to inspire change. The world is truly a better place because the Legendary Dr. Holden chose optometry.

Image courtesy of Brien Holden Vision Institute

Next: So much more...

 

So much more....

Rick Weisbarth, OD, FAAO

Vice president of professional affairs, Alcon

It is with a heavy heart that I write about Brien Holden. The entire eyecare community was saddened upon hearing the news of his passing. During his career, Professor Holden served as an inspirational leader and role model for so many in the profession.

In addition to being a colleague and friend, he was so much more...̢۬He was internationally renowned in eye care and vision research, an awarded scientist, visionary, educator, scholar, author, lecturer, presenter, collaborator, inventor, debater, humanitarian, entrepreneur, and mastermind behind the Annual Australian Room at the AAO meeting. Without a doubt, he was one the most interesting and intriguing individuals that many of us have ever known. Brien lived life to the fullest-each and every day.

His contributions to the eye and vision care field were extraordinary. With tremendous insight, Brien was a leader and actively involved in the formation of many organizations. For example, he was a co-founder of the International Association of Contact Lens Educators, the founding president-elect of the International Society for Contact Lens Research, founder of the Optometric Vision Research Foundation, and founding director of the Institute of Eye
Research. In addition, he was an extremely active member of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Optometry, the World Health Organization’s Refractive Error Working Group, and countless other professional
organizations. Regardless of his role or position, he always was willing to roll up his sleeves and contribute. His contributions to all that he touched were remarkable.

As I reflect, a number of great memories of Brien come to mind. It seems like just yesterday when we first met. The setting was the Dick Hill’s laboratory at The Ohio State University College of Optometry. I was a student with a keen interest in contact lenses, and he was on sabbatical working with Steve Zantos. During that time, I learned so much from him including: all I ever wanted to know about transient endothelial changes (aka blebs), smuggling refreshments for the research subjects into the lab (aka Fosters beer), and most importantly, controlling perceptions (aka keeping the door shut so that people think that you are always working and to cover up your messy office).

I also remember the time that we took Brien to a local pub on campus. It was a fun evening, but it resulted in being barred from that establishment for the rest of my years at OSU. There was also the time that he wanted to play basketball. It was challenging trying to teach him the meaning of “foul” and how the game differed significantly from rugby and Australian rules football.

When I started my career in industry, we began to interact on a very regular basis. His involvement in clinical studies, research projects, brain-storming meetings, IACLE activities, and on the lecture circuit allowed our friendship to grow and develop. There were definitely some interesting experiences in those early years. And most amazing was that we made it through that period without a criminal record.

Like many others, I have been so fortunate to learn from him at Academy meetings. Brien was a Diplomate in the Section on Cornea, Contact Lenses and Refractive Technologies. In addition, he was an avid supporter of the American Optometric Foundation. Among the several Academy awards received, Brien was honored with the Academy's Charles F. Prentice Medal and Lecture (the AAO's highest honor) at Academy 2014 Denver.

Finally, I had the opportunity to witness Brien work on his ultimate passion-Optometry Giving Sight. What a wonderful experience seeing him pay it forward and live out his dream of “Vision for Everyone, Everywhere.”

Brien – thank you so much for all your many contributions. You will always be with us in the memories we have shared,

your fun spirit, warmth, wisdom and the special ways that you cared. May all the good times together help console us in a gentle and lasting way,

and fill our hearts with peace and comfort with each passing day. 

Next: Six-packs of Foster's and contact lenses

 

Six-packs of Foster’s and contact lenses

Jan Jurkus, OD, MBA, FAAO

Professor, director of residency programs, Illinois College of Optometry

Brien Holden lived large. In the past few days, much has been written about his professional accomplishments, including the development of Cornea and Contact Lens Research Unit (CCLRU), IACLE, and more recently his humanitarian efforts with Optometry Giving Sight. Truly amazing.

I remember some of his other contributions to optometry. Years ago, the Academy had a Hauf Brou dinner each year. Well, the young Aussie thought something else could be more fun. A group of the “young members” gathered in Brien's hotel room, filled the bathtub with Foster’s and ice, moved the furniture into the hall, and partied! After a few years, the hotels were not happy, and the party grew to become the Australia Party we have today. Brien danced at each event!

I also remember sitting with George Mertz, Sheldon Weschler, and Brien Holden as they shared a six-pack of beer and explained to me that one day, contact lens manufacturing would get to the point of excellence that soft lenses would be sold in six-packs rather than a single vial. What visionaries.

Brien also honored those who he admired. The educational event in Prague to celebrate Otto Wichterle’s 80th birthday brought people from all over the world to share knowledge.

Brien Holden was truly an impressive man. He will be missed, but his legacy goes on.

Image courtesy of Brien Holden Vision Institute

Next: Where’d you get the f*#@ing beer?

 

Where’d you get the f*#@ing beer?

Kevin Roe, OD, FAAO

Director, optometry and professional organizations, Alcon

I first met Brien Holden at the 2003 Academy meeting in Dallas when Rick Weisbarth, my new boss, stopped him in the exhibit hall and stated, “Brien, I’d like to introduce you to someone.” Whatever initial anxiety I may have had in meeting such an icon immediately increased as I took in the sheer size and presence of the man. However, my intimidation was short-lived as Brien replied, “Sure thing, but hold on a moment…”, and then shouted out in a booming voice to someone across the hall, “Hey mate, where’d you get the f*#@ing beer?” Seconds later he was chatting with us about his latest research with silicone hydrogel lenses and ideas for humanitarian efforts.

To me, that single encounter sums up Brien Holden beautifully. He loved life (and beer), and lived it to the fullest. But at the same time he was a warm, brilliant, and incredibly caring individual who had time for everyone and devoted his life and his genius to making the world a better place.

There is an old Greek proverb that states, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Thank you, Brien, for the shade that future generations will be sitting in, because of the many trees you have planted.

Next: Society thanks Professor Brien A. Holden

 

Society thanks Professor Brien A. Holden 

Donald R. Korb, OD, FAAO

Chief technical officer and cofounder, TearScience

Brien Holden’s passion for recognizing problem areas in eyecare, his ability to create teams of researchers and clinicians to find resolutions, and his overriding desire to improve the visual well-being of humanity, particularly the underprivileged, combine to make him a unique member of not only the optometric profession but all healthcare professions.

Brien’s career and my own had many parallels-our sharing the commonality of the effect of contact lenses on ocular physiology provided me with the opportunity to observe and follow his steady rise in clinical research and education. We became and remained close friends for 40 years. Within a short period of time, he would highlight and dominate any educational program, not only with his “science-based” practical information, but by mannerisms and vocabulary unique to Brien and initially rather startling to Americans. He was a much sought-after lecturer.

His PhD thesis on the development and control of myopia and the effects of contact lenses on corneal topography established the course of his career, the early years devoted to contact lenses and corneal physiology, and the later years expanding to myopia and uncorrected refractive error. It was remarkable to observe Brien evolve from a single and lead investigator to his recruiting and collaborating with over 80 colleagues to extend his scientific research from contact lenses to many areas of ocular research and more recently to public health. He obtained over $100M to support these endeavors, ultimately carried out through his Brien Holden Vision Institute. This seemingly impossible financial support allowed him to pursue many areas simultaneously and to implement programs to translate the scientific concepts into clinical reality.

As a long-term member and chair of the Awards Committee of the American Academy of Optometry, I had the privilege of gaining further insight into the depth of his commitment and contributions. He was recognized by the Academy, as well as by many other organizations, in a manner that no other optometrist has achieved. He received six major awards from the Academy, exemplifying the extent and far-reaching effects of his work. He was the first recipient of the Essilor Award for Outstanding International Contributions to Optometry and a recipient of the Carel C. Koch Memorial Medal Award for interprofessional relationships. His contact lens contributions were recognized by the Contact Lens Section’s Schapero Lecture and Founders Award. He was awarded the Fry and Prentice Awards, the two highest academic awards of the Academy.

These six awards encompassing the ultimate of accomplishments in contact lenses, academia, scientific research, philanthropy and international contribution have been only accomplished by Brien, and I predict will never be duplicated. However, Brien may be best known within the Academy for the annual Australia Party, in true Australian style, with Fosters, music, dancing, and a good time for all! This party is a tribute to Brien’s culture and generosity.

I had the privilege of writing the seconding letter for the Prentice Award, which he received in November 2014. Before doing so, I questioned Brien about what he considered his three most important accomplishments as a scientist. His reply was the following:

• Understanding the ocular effects of contact lenses and surgery on corneal structure and function in order to develop ways of reducing and avoiding structural and physiological compromise. Following 15 years of research, the levels of oxygen required to maintain optimal physiology were established. The results of this work led to the understanding that high Dk lenses are desirable if not mandatory and the subsequent development of high Dk lenses.

• Recognizing the need for studying the effects of uncorrected refractive error. Seminal research was conducted to document the prevalence, societal outcomes, and economic consequences of uncorrected refractive error, blindness, and visual impairment in children, adults, and presbyopes. This was recognized by the Australian government, which contributed $80M for this work in the Western Pacific.

• Studying myopia, its consequences, and control. Recognizing the great increase in the incidence and degree of myopia worldwide, an extensive program over many years evaluated all areas of myopia with the intent of developing methods of control.

His work was and continues to be the work of hundreds, those within his organizations as well as collaborators around the world. He demonstrated a passion for training others. He had the ability to pragmatically focus his drive on achieving his goals. He was never deterred. His ability to directly provide the ideas, leadership and management of major projects in different areas simultaneously was remarkable, as was his ability to obtain funding.

In addition to his remarkable scientific activities, almost 500 peer-reviewed publications, mentoring over 100 graduate students, his founding of organizations and his philanthropic interests, Dr. Holden was the most vivid example of an individual dedicated to a career-long goal of advancement in all areas of vision and visual science and a desire to bring vision to all, particularly to those of limited resources. He was intimately involved with helping the underprivileged. He was a founder of Optometry Giving Sight, an international organization dedicated to reducing the prevalence of vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive errors. It is the only global fundraising organization with the mission of alleviating this problem, which affects 600 million worldwide. He envisioned optometry as the optimal method to deliver vision care to all, while working closely with ophthalmologists and ophthalmological institutions throughout the world.

I can emphatically state that if there were an award for the optometrist who has accomplished the most in the modern era worldwide, Brien Holden would have no competition.

He will be missed not only by the professions but by the millions who have benefited and will continue to benefit from his work.

Thank you, Brien, for all you accomplished for so many, and thank you for simply being Brien Holden.

Next: The greatest visionary and humanitarian in the profession

 

The greatest visionary and humanitarian in the profession

Ed Bennett, OD, MSEd, FAAO

Professor, assistant dean for student services and alumni relations, University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry

I first met Professor Brien Holden in 1979 at the Bausch + Lomb National Research Symposium and he was then-as he was to the day he died-larger than life. It was evident then that he was a brilliant researcher who had his finger on the pulse of the contact lens industry and was on his way to becoming the individual who exhibited the greatest impact on both cornea and contact lens research globally and, ultimately, on worldwide vision care.

My memories of him are all quite wonderful. I presented a controversial paper at the American Academy of Optometry meeting in 1988, and someone in the audience attacked me verbally; I was not allowed to respond. Brien did, and he defended me. He was always extremely complimentary of the GP Lens Institute. He never said no whenever I would ask if my student or resident could have their photo taken with him-of course, always accompanied by that definitive charismatic smile.

I’ve always enjoyed giving award presentations as much or more than receiving awards, but I’ll always remember when we were on the podium together for the 2009 Bronstein Award ceremony in Arizona and fearing that Brien would not receive the tribute he so rightly deserved, I devoted much of my speech reminding the audience that they were in the presence of the greatest visionary and humanitarian in their profession. That remains my favorite memory of him.

Of course, he is renowned for initiating the Center for Contact Lens and Cornea Research Unit (CCLRU) in Sydney (now the Brien Holden Vision Institute [BHVI]). Among his many innovations included co-developing the silicone-hydrogel lens material, standards for oxygen transmission, extended wear materials and safety and, most recently, novel spectacles and soft lenses to slow the progression of myopia in young children.

Only Brien Holden could have the leadership and vision to initiate organizations such as the International Association of Contact Lens Educators, which developed resources targeted at educating hundreds of contact lens educators throughout the world and, ultimately, Optometry Giving Sight, a global fundraising organization aimed at was what always so near and dear to Brien’s heart: reducing the prevalence of vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive errors.

Now that the sun has sat on the life of a legend-and the memories of our experiences with him always in our heart-it would be most appropriate that the next time you are in a pub, raise your glass in the air in tribute to Brien Holden. Somehow that seems like the fitting testimonial to someone whose impact on our profession and, most importantly, vision care worldwide is legendary and will never be equaled.

Image courtesy of Brien Holden Vision Institute

Next: Looking up to an optometric idol

 

Looking up to an optometric idol

Loretta Szczotka-Flynn, OD, MS, FAAO

Director, contact lens Service, University Hospitals Case Medical Center; professor, ophthalmology, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Brien Holden was a true optometry hero. My interactions with him began as an optometry student attending the North American Contact Lens Research Symposia in the early 1990s where Brien was always a key presenter who stole the show and mesmerized the audience with his cutting-edge research and presentation style.

He was the leading authority on everything related to contact lenses and the Cornea & Contact Lens Research Unit (CCLRU) which he founded was the leading institution on contact lens research worldwide. It was a young research optometrist’s dream to interact with Brien scientifically, personally, and socially. Brien continued to impress the profession with his research institutes (Institute for Eye Research and later the Brien Holden Vision Institute) through the silicone hydrogel era where he co-developed such lenses with CIBA Vision, and later revolutionizing the industry in myopia stabilization research.

What is most memorable about Brien (other than his fun-loving personality, lively debates, and Australia Parties at the Academy) is his commitment to global health and worldwide blindness. He just about single-handedly led worldwide efforts to “cure” the number one cause of preventable blindness worldwide: uncorrected refractive error. Through his efforts, glasses are prescribed to once blind individuals in third-world populations at little cost.

My memories of Brien will always be happy ones. I feel privileged to have graduated from the lowly graduate student looking up to such an optometric idol to being his peer sharing research interests. His legacy must continue. Anyone who crossed his path should cherish and permanently file away those moments, and those who watched from afar, never forget the impact he made on our profession. There will never be anyone as powerful as Brien Holden in this profession in our generation.

Next: What does it all mean?

 

What does it all mean?

Tom Quinn, OD, MS, FAAO

Athens, OH

The year 1978 was a big one for me. I was a third-year optometry student at The Ohio State University. I met the woman who was to later become my wife. And I learned to speak Australian-and contact lenses-from a bloke named Brien Holden.

Brien was doing his sabbatical at OSU and invited some students to help with the grunt work. Seven or eight of us volunteered, having very little notion of what we were in for. Brien was working with Steve Zantos on trying to understand changes in the corneal endothelium, the “endothelial bleb response,” when a contact lens was applied to the ocular surface. He would often have two or three projects going simultaneously. While a master multitasker, even Brien would be occasionally be overcome with all the chaos, which would prompt him to recite his call to calm with this mock plaintive cry: “Why are we here? What is life? What’s it all mean?”

There were numerous additional escapades that went on during those months of the Great Blizzard of ’78. Blizzard is both a reference to the brutal winter weather to which we treated our Australian visitor but also to the intense impact Brien had on all those he touched, particularly the students he embraced so completely. My experience with Brien played a large role in developing my lifetime interest in contact lenses.

Thank you, Brien, for the many lives you’ve touched worldwide. That’s “what it all means.” But a special thanks for being part of mine.

Tom and Brien, Academy 2007. (Photo courtesy of Pamela Capaldi)

 

Next: Force of nature

 

 

 

Force of nature

Dave Hansen, OD, FAAO

Laguna Hills, CA

I have been asked to share my thoughts about our beloved friend, Professor Brien Holden. It is an honor, but with deep sorrow, and a difficult assignment to characterize his life and not leave out many of his vast accomplishments. He was a professional colleague, world-class innovative researcher, international spokesperson for the eyecare industry, vibrant lecturer, trusted consultant, global humanitarian, dedicated educator, progressive entrepreneur, boss, husband, father, grandfather, and most of all a committed friend. His friendship was appreciated by millions throughout the world within the ophthalmic profession and by many who benefited from his expansive research and philanthropy. In a sense, he was a force of nature.

I had the pleasure to know Brien, to engage and collaborate with him on professional optometric and ophthalmic industry projects, and yes, enjoy fun with Brien since 1978. Anyone who has been closely associated with him or knew him only remotely will probably have a lifelong image of him and admire his tremendous accomplishments. As educational program chair for the Heart of America Contact Lens Society (HOACLS) in 1978, I decided to take a chance to invite a little known Australian to be one of the lecturers at the first HOACLS International Program in Kansas City. Brien proceeded to capture the audiences with stimulating, revolutionary, and scientific data for improving clinical skills. He then continued throughout the world!

Only a few people in history have been fortunate enough to influence others with the magnitude that Brien possessed using his perpetual charisma and vision. We have all been blessed to know, interact, and watch his gifted persona guide our eyecare profession.

We will miss him, especially when the eyecare community needs a scientific pragmatist willing to travel around the world to successfully address difficult healthcare situations. I will miss him personally for his astute wisdom, wry humor, and friendship.

Image courtesy of Brien Holden Vision Institute

Next: OSU during Fulbright year

 

OSU during Fulbright year

Richard Hill, OD, PhD

Dean emeritus of The Ohio State University College of Optometry

With the passing of Professor Brien Holden, the ophthalmic community has lost an extraordinary scientist, entrepreneur, and international diplomat for vision science.

We were fortunate to have him with us at The Ohio State University College of Optometry for most of his Fulbright year (1978-79). He engendered in all an enthusiasm for what could be done for the visually impaired.

He later went on to assemble an internationally recognized cornea and contact lens institute at the University of New South Wales, leaving a remarkable legacy of PhD scientists and landmark studies. He will be remembered as well as the inspiring spirit behind the International Society for Contact Lens Research (ISCLR), a unique forum for open discussion and debate among the ophthalmic sciences.

The Ohio State University was pleased to recognize Professor Holden’s exceptional accomplishments by awarding him the honorary degree Doctor of Science.