In Memorium: Dr. Harold Solan 1921-2012


The warm smile was part of his signature.  “How Are Ya?”  was the familiar greeting.  At his funeral on Wednesday lots of recollections from family about what a special father and grandfather he was.  His granddaughter mentioned his interest in how she was learning; whether she was mastering her “gazinatas”.  You know, the Yiddish word for division.  How many times does 3 gazinta 6?  A man after my own heart, devouring cans of corn and dishing it out liberally.  Harold’s family  knew many details of his professional career, but it would be understandably difficult for them to grasp the full measure of the man professionally.  Harold (his first name was iconic, much like Madonna) to my knowledge was the first optometrist to author a textbook about learning: The Psychology of Learning and Reading, published by Simon & Schuster in 1973.  He would follow that up in 1982 with another multi-authored textbook, The Treatment and Management of Children with Learning Disabilities, published by Charles C. Thomas.  His seminal work over the next decade was represented in a book co-authored with Dr. Sidney Groffman, Developmental & Perceptual Assessment of Learning-Disabled Children: Theoretical Concepts and Diagnostic Testing, published by OEP in 1994.  In 2002 Harold authored a brilliant chapter on his model of vision as applied to reading in a book edited by Hung and Ciuffreda on Models of the Visual System.

The subject matter of Harold’s books was influenced by his two Master’s degrees, one in reading and the other in developmental psychology, b0th obtained from Teachers College of Columbia University.  He was able to build a phenomenal practice in Teaneck, New Jersey, specializing in visually based learning and reading problems, and maintained close ties with the educational community.  This was relatively easy, as Harold helped educate and train many of the reading specialists in the area as a member of the graduate faculties of Psychology and Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck.  It was fitting therefore that The Record, our local newspaper, paid tribute to Harold through a featured obituary.

Harold was recruited to SUNY College of Optometry in 1981 to take their newly established Learning Disabilities Unit to a higher level.  He teamed with Florence Springer, a tough and determined educator, to build a very effective service.  When I was recruited to serve as Chief of the Vision Therapy Services at SUNY in 1982, I found myself in the unusual position of being Harold’s administrative peer, even though he was more than 30 years my senior.  Harold always provided sound advice and encouragement, and he was an incredible mentor.  Harold encouraged me to expand my part-time practice in New Jersey into a full-time venture, and as  I left the College in 1997 to establish The Vision & Learning Center in Fair Lawn, he became even more prolific with his research and publications.  As recently as 2007, Harold’s work was the focus of a Symposium at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Optometry.

I stayed in touch with Harold regularly.  I was privileged to co-author an article with him on the role of Optometry in Learning Disabilities, and he took a strong interest in how my practice was doing.  We lovingly referred to him as The Energizer Bunny, as he would run circles around younger colleagues, that is until Alzheimer’s robbed him of his greatest asset.  Harold passed peacefully last Sunday, leaving an incredible legacy of family, friends, and colleagues.  As we sat in the funeral hall two days ago, with the backdrop of Hebrew words reminding attendees to remember the departed ones with blessing, nothing could express the sentiment better than a poem inscribed in the memorial service leaflet with the header, Remember Me:

Fill not your heart with pain and sorrow,
but remember me in every tomorrow.
Remember the joy, the laughter, the smiles,
I’ve only gone to rest a little while.

Although my leaving causes pain and grief,
my going has eased my hurt and given me relief.

So dry your eyes and remember me
not as I am now, but as I use to be.

Because I will remember you all and look on with a smile,
Understand, in your hearts, I’ve only gone to rest a little while.
As long as I have the love of each of you,
I can live my life in the hearts of all of you.

One of my greatest regrets is that when Harold phoned about five years ago asking if I would help him write a book summarizing his life’s work in Optometry, I told him I couldn’t make that commitment.  Not long after, he slowly began his cognitive decline and I didn’t make enough of an attempt to visit him at home. That was my shortcoming in not knowing how to deal with the circumstances.

Some key lyrics from Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band are suitable here, for that’s clearly what Harold was to so many younger colleagues around the country.

A quiet man of music,
Denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once
But his music wouldn’t wait
He earned his love
Through discipline
A thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls
Took me years to understand

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band

I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom
When it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don’t think I
Said ‘I love you’ near enough

Harold could be brutally honest.  When I tore my knee and had an emergency appendectomy shortly thereafter at age 40, I stopped a lifelong passion for exercise and began putting on weight.  Harold said quite simply: “You’re getting too heavy”.  When we ate lunch together at SUNY, as we did often, he would cringe at my selections.  Yes, Harold, I thank you for both the kindness, as well as the times when you got tough.  From Shelly Mozlin to Barry Tannen, from Eric Borsting to Tony Ficarra, from Steve Larson to John Shelly-Tremblay and all the others who Harold mentored at SUNY and beyond, he was a father figure who gave us a gift that we can never repay.  He would derive a good measure of satisfaction, however, in seeing how we are mentoring others in his image.

11 thoughts on “In Memorium: Dr. Harold Solan 1921-2012

  1. Thank you Lenny for this wonderfully written summary of a truly remarkable man. Dr. Solan positively influenced my thinking during my SUNY residency in 1984. I am forever grateful. Carole Burns

  2. Well said Len. He was truly a gentle giant. We will miss him. It is Optometry’s loss. His work must be carried on by those whose lives he has touched.

    Michael

  3. A great man of Behavioural Optometry! Thoughts and prayers from Australia to Harold’s family and the optometric community. Adrian Bell ACBO

  4. For some reason, Harold took a liking to me. At every COVD meeing he always tracked me down and wanted to find some time to visit. He invited me to NY to visit him often, and was very sincere in his wish to show me the town. He was such a legend and yet so genuine. We will continue to miss him and be grateful for the knowledge and research he left us.

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  6. As a SUNY resident in 1983-84 – I spent a full day each week with Harold “learning about learning” disabilities. Harold’s genuine interest in teaching made each of us feel as though we were special to him – which we were. We went on to write a short article together on Visual Perception and Harold would visit me at PCO on some of his trips to see his aunt in Philadelphia. He was a magnificent professional role model and inspiration to each of us in academia and optometric research. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked with him and am proud that he was one of my mentors early in my career. Aside from his professional accomplishments, Harold was an individual who was kind and caring, expressing an interest in his colleagues lives and always speaking affectionately about his wife and family. Even though I was not in touch with him over the last few years, I will always consider him as one of the great influences in my optometric career.

  7. . As a SUNY resident in 1983-84 – I spent a full day each week with Harold “learning about learning” disabilities. Harold’s genuine interest in teaching made each of us feel as though we were special to him – which we were. We went on to write a short article together on Visual Perception and Harold would visit me at PCO on some of his trips to see his aunt in Philadelphia. He was a magnificent professional role model and inspiration to each of us in academia and optometric research. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked with him and am proud that he was one of my mentors early in my career. Aside from his professional accomplishments, Harold was an individual who was kind and caring, expressing an interest in his colleagues lives and always speaking affectionately about his wife and family. Even though I was not in touch with him over the last few years, I will always consider him as one of the great influences in my optometric career.

  8. I was so saddended to hear of Hal Solan’s passing. When I was just starting out and new to behavioural optometry and made my way to SUNY in 1992 from Melbourne, I was welcomed with open arms and was given a great opportunity to witness first hand the wonderful clinics he lead. It certainly changed my approach and career. May Hal RIP and be long remembered for all the great mentoring and numerous papers he has written in the pursuit of ophthalmic science

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