The year was 1981. I was Chief of the Pediatric Unit at The Eye Institute of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, certain that I would remain in Philadelphia for the rest of my career. I had just become a Fellow of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development in November and a Diplomate in the American Academy of Optometry in December, but felt that there was so much more to learn.
In those days there was no science of “mentoring”. You learned by modeling yourself after peers that you respected, and nowhere was there a cadre of peers more worthy of respect than at the State University of New York’s College of Optometry. I called to arrange a visit with Dr. Irwin Suchoff and we hit it off immediately. Long story short, he invited me to interview for the position of Chief of their Vision Therapy Service and the rest was a wonderful 15 year history of collegiality and informal mentorship that persists to this day.
I am not alone. There are legions of optometrists who have interacted closely with Irwin through the years, treasuring him as a valuable friend and mentor. That is why news of Irwin’s health scare earlier in the week ricocheted around our email chain like a bullet we hoped he would dodge. And it was a relief to hear that he did, coming home from the hospital to face life’s next round of challenges. He is blessed with two incredibly competent and caring children, Patti and Andrew, who will help guide him and Gloria, the love of his life, through these dreaded but seemingly inevitable geriatric transitions.
Conversation is Irwin’s lifeline, and Patti made it known that he was ready to hear from his friends. “I had a good run” he told me yesterday, as we reminisced on his landline. It ain’t over yet, as Yogi said in the Bronx, and to use one of Irwin’s favorite New York words, life has gotten more interesting (pronounced in the Bronx as “intristing”). It is a time again for Irwin to re-invent himself, and he will rise to the challenge the way he always does. After our conversation I found myself yearning for more of his voice which we thankfully have, owing to this heritage piece.
Irwin has that gift of being able to make you feel like you’re the most important person on his mind when you speak with him. When he says “stay in touch” it isn’t a gratuitous request, so stay in touch we shall. Do you have a mentor, optometric or otherwise, who means the world to you? Pick up the phone.