December 2013
Volume 54, Issue 13
Free
Obituary  |   December 2013
Remembering Bernard Becker, MD, 1920–2013
Author Affiliations
  • Paul L. Kaufman
    Editor-in-Chief, 2008–2012
Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science December 2013, Vol.54, 7885-7886. doi:10.1167/iovs.13-13491
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      Paul L. Kaufman; Remembering Bernard Becker, MD, 1920–2013. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2013;54(13):7885-7886. doi: 10.1167/iovs.13-13491.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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This memorial tribute deserves a brief introduction. IOVS generally does not publish such tributes, but this is a special case. Bernie Becker was the founding Editor of IOVS and played an essential role in the establishment of the National Eye Institute, the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology, and many other organizations that remain central to vision research and ophthalmology training in the United States. It is fitting that the former Editor-in-Chief of IOVS, Paul Kaufman, was one of Bernie's trainees, placing him in an exceptional position to write an authoritative, moving and deeply personal tribute to Dr Becker's lifetime accomplishments. Having had the honor and privilege of working with Bernie over my 18 years at Washington University, I can attest to Paul's description of Dr Becker as one of the (gentle) giants of ophthalmology and vision research during the past century. 
David C. Beebe, Editor-in-Chief  
Bernard Becker, the founding editor of IOVS and one of the giants of 20th century ophthalmology and vision research, passed away on August 28, 2013, at the age of 93 years. 
Bernie Becker was extraordinary. He was a master physician, a mesmerizing presenter, and would work—and run—a room with quiet mastery. His grand rounds at Barnes Hospital every Friday afternoon were a municipal event in St. Louis, where all of ophthalmology in the city shut down so they could attend. Bernie became chair of ophthalmology at Washington University School of Medicine-Barnes Hospital in 1954, soon after serving as chief resident at Johns Hopkins/Wilmer Institute of Ophthalmology. He assembled an extraordinarily talented faculty group consisting of both clinicians and basic scientists, and everything in between. They were national/international leaders in their day, and they trained the next generation of leaders as residents and postdoctoral fellows; these trainees became department chairs, professional society leaders, and yes, even editors of IOVS and other major journals. It is fitting that 50 years after he founded IOVS, the chief editorship again resides at Washington University in St. Louis in the capable hands of David Beebe. 
Everyone who knew Bernie had favorite Bernie stories, and it would be impossible to replicate them all here. Endless laps in the swimming pool; reading journals in all branches of science and medicine in the Washington University Medical Library (which would eventually bear his name and house his world-renowned ophthalmic historical book collection); sending personalized annotated copies of articles to individuals—including residents—whom he thought might be especially interested; elegant yet informal dinners for the residents at his home, and many, many more. He had founding and/or leadership roles in Research to Prevent Blindness, the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology, the National Eye Institute, ARVO, the ophthalmology residency matching program, and many other key organizations—roles he executed in a very quiet way, yet with passion. 
For him, research held the key to the future, both in his own hands and for those he trained. He promoted research at every turn and unfailingly encouraged his residents toward careers encompassing discovery. Once he knew your interests, he'd point you the right way, and open doors to collaboration, fellowship training, and faculty placement. He would, as they say, plan your life and then help to make it happen. He surely did that for me. I decided late on ophthalmology as a career, and applied late for residencies during my last year in medical school. These were the pre-residency days when the process was a chaotic free for all scramble, and weaker programs demanded earlier commitment. After acceptance to such a program, entry to which was delayed by 2 years of military service, I was fortunate—and surprised—to be offered a position quite late in the game at Washington University, one of the best programs in the country, no doubt (in my mind) because someone had dropped out. I called Dr Becker for advice, concerned that he would not remember me or take my call, but he quickly came on the phone. I hurriedly tried to explain who I was, but he remembered immediately and said, “I know who you are, how can I help you?” Thus, I began my ophthalmology training at Washington University. He was always approachable during my residency for career guidance, and he suggested, planned, and helped arrange support in a very challenging fiscal environment for my postdoctoral research fellowship with Ernst Bárány and Anders Bill in Uppsala, Sweden. The experience had a major impact on my professional and personal life, as I imagine he knew it would. He followed my career thereafter; we emailed and talked periodically to discuss science and career choices along the way. My wife and I visited Bernie and Janet over the years whenever we returned to St. Louis for meetings, events, or to see old friends, and we immensely enjoyed a “just-the-four-of-us” dinner during a meeting in Santa Fe in 2000, shortly after his 80th birthday. He was always supportive and was genuinely interested in our lives. It was that attitude toward his “other children”—always ready to listen and to offer impeccable but never intrusive advice or assistance whenever he could—that I appreciated through the years and have tried to emulate. 
Margaret and I most recently saw Bernie and Janet in their home less than 2 years ago. Amazingly, he knew exactly what Margaret and our daughter Alison (who was born in St. Louis during my residency and whom Bernie and Janet had seen only as an infant) were doing. His scientific and personal intellects were as keen as ever. We were honored to see them, especially since they watched us grow and flourish over 40 years, and played no small part in that. We like to think that this last meeting was as meaningful and pleasurable for them as it was for us. 
Such personal remembrances and his organizational achievements at the Washington University Medical Center (where the Department of Ophthalmology rose to great national and international prominence under his leadership) and in so many other key organizations and programs sometimes overshadow his own personal research achievements. He was the first to realize and to apply clinically the role of carbonic anhydrase in aqueous humor formation, introducing carbonic anhydrase inhibitor drugs for the treatment of glaucoma. He was among the first to appreciate and characterize the IOP-elevating effect of glucocorticosteroids, its relationship to primary open angle glaucoma and diabetes, and the heritability of all three. Many of his trainees went on to distinguished academic careers and leadership roles, nurturing a follow-on generation of leaders. Thus, Bernie became a professional as well as a personal grandfather. We still think of him lovingly and try to make him proud. He will be deeply missed on all levels, and we can only wish him an easy, gentle sleep after many jobs well done. 
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