Donald J. Getz, O.D., 1931-2012

I’m pretty sure Dr. Getz was born in 1931, but it doesn’t matter because if there’s anyone who lived each day as if it was his last, it was Don.  He often quipped that the males in his family all died of heart ailments by the time they were in their ’50s, and if he had known he was going to last this long, he would have taken better care of himself.  It doesn’t matter that the quote was originally attributed to Eubie Blake because no one quipped or told jokes with any better sense of timing than Don.

I first discovered Don as a student when I was trying to figure out strabismus and amblyopia, and his monograph opened my eyes.  His was a better clinical primer on dealing with patients day-to-day than anything I had seen written, and to this day remains one of my favorite sources on the subject.

I first met Don in person at a COVD meeting, where many of my colleagues first met him as well.  Though he served as President of the organization, I remember him most fondly in two distinct roles.  One was as Chairman of the Continuing Education Programs.  Don would often solicit my opinion on who I thought might be of interest to our membership.  He was always seeking cutting edge knowledge, and though much of what he sought to bring to the membership was clinical, he always held out one spot for a basic scientist in vision research.  His vision persists in the organization to this day.  Though he would stroll around the meeting in his impeccably matched tennis warm-up ensemble, when it was time for CE he was always dressed very professionally, reflecting the flair he had for clothing and for talent.  I was gratified that he took me under his wing, and though he could dish it out, it was always with the intent of helping you grasp what he had seen often well ahead of others.  In his interview with Dr. Paul Harris for the OEP Heritage Series, Don mentions graduating at the top of his Optometry class in Berkeley, but butting heads with professors over classical vs. functional approaches to vision, and I believe that helped him relate to students particularly well for many years.

Don’s other role was as Master of Ceremonies at the Annual Awards Luncheon.  It was at that luncheon that he could make you cringe or make you cry, either with laughter or tears of joy.  He wasn’t always politically correct, but he was always correct.  I just loved sitting in anticipation of Don introducing members of the dais with an anecdote, and he made it look effortless.  Truth be told, however, he always put a great deal of effort into preparing for his role.  He always saved the best introduction for last, that of his wife, his liebschen, Lynne.

Of the many things that Don was proud of, it was that his children, Dana and Nina were both optometrists, as was his son Eric.  My own son, Dan, was fortunate to experience Don when he externed in his office seven years ago.  It was Don along with his star protegee, Dr. Gary Etting, who provided the framework for Dan not only to learn more about vision therapy, but to meet his own liebschen, Sara.  That was part of Don’s legacy – his love of imparting knowledge.  Don and Gary helped initiate the VisionHelp group that provides the platform for this blog.  Don was also extremely proud that he had the good fortune of having Lora McGraw as his vision therapist, a woman who set the bar very high for other optometric vision therapists.

Don thought, wrote, and talked about many diverse aspects of Optometry. He was a pioneer in sports vision, nutrition, myopia, and vision and learning in addition to the monograph that many students knew him by.  I’m glad I had the opportunity to write a tribute to Don while he was still well enough to read it.

One of Don’s favorite quotes, when he lectured, was something that he attributed to Henry David Thoreau: “The flexibility of your adaptability is a measure of your intelligence”.  By any measure, I have yet to meet anyone with more intelligence.  I never got around to asking Don why he was so enamored with Thoreau, but perhaps it’s because it is said of Thoreau that he found great joy in his daily life.

Rest in peace, Don.

11 thoughts on “Donald J. Getz, O.D., 1931-2012

    • Thanks, Bob, and thank you for sharing the news and your thoughts about him as well. How privileged we are to have been impacted by his style, his wit, and his charm. Yet beyond that, beneath the veneer, was a very sensitive and caring man that made him even more special. A fine wine to celebrate his life will be in order when we get together at the COVD meeting — goodness, it is next month already?

    • You’re welcome, Lynne. Miriam and I were misty-eyed all night, and still are this morning. Don was such a huge influence, not just in Optometry, but in the way you two role-modeled partnership. Our kids were privileged to attend enough meetings to see that in action. We love you deeply, and unconditionally.

  1. Beautiful tribute to an amazing man! My prayers are with his family, friends, and colleagues. Dr. Getz will be sorely missed.

    King George, VA

  2. Don Getz was so much fun to be with. I’ll never forget the excitement in the room, so many years ago, when Don Getz and Bill Ludlam talked about VT vs. surgery for strabismus, at my 1st COVD meeting in New York, while I was a 4th year student at ICO. Hard to believe they are now both gone. Don was always fun to talk to, taught me so much, and inspired so many. What a huge loss for COVD and our beloved profession.  I hope the memory of Don’s mostly funny jokes and wonderful spirit will help Lynne, his family, and his many friends find some comfort and peace. Someone so special will never be forgotten and will live for a very long time in the many of us who were fortunate enough to know him.

  3. There are four behavioral optometrists who really stepped up and helped me tremendously when I was getting (later renamed Optometrists Network) off the ground. First and foremost – and without comparison, really — was Don Getz. Don quipped that he was “my mascot” at every COVD Annual Meeting for the first five years and he dragged many a colleague to my Exhibit table. Don was a force, a mensch, a sprite, a giant, a zesty life-loving MAN…a true “village elder.” Really, he was someone I can not describe in words. Don allowed me to love him as a peer and he was the first “client” who did this. There haven’t been too many. Don even commiserated with me about September 11 (which I witnessed and was also his birthday). God bless him, even though I have no idea what his position was on that account. There was so much to talk about, but we never got around to that. – Rachel Cooper – Optometrists Network

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