Any number of people in Optometry could have written this blog piece, among them (in alphabetical order) Beth Bazin, Ken Ciuffreda, Dave Fitzgerald, Roz Gianutsos, Celia Hinrichs, Neera Kapoor, Patty Lemer, Rich Laudon, Diana Ludlam, W.C. Maples, Shelly Mozlin, Gio Olivares & Tim Petito, Jack Richman, Stu Rothman, Linda & Bob Sanet, Rich Soden, Selwyn Super, Barry Tannen, Bob Williams, Gary Williams, and the list goes on and on (forgive me if I’ve omitted you) … and those are merely some of the voices who are with us, not to mention legions who were contemporaries of Irwin but no longer with us (with due apologies if that sounds too morbid). I hadn’t intended to write this today; it sprang up as I was perusing Stephen Wolfram’s Idea Makers in the Cafe at B & N this morning.
Wolfram observes: “When history is written, all that’s usually said is that so-and-so came up with such-and-such an idea. But there’s always more to it: there’s always a human story behind it. Sometimes that story helps illuminate the abstract idea. But more often, it instead gives us insight about how to turn some human situation or practical issue into something intellectual – and perhaps something that will live on, abstractly, long after the person who created it is gone.”
While it may not be fair to credit Irwin with the “idea” of mentorship, I can think of no one in the profession who has excelled at it on so many levels as he did. I touched upon this in writing about Irwin last summer, but haven’t begun to do it justice. That is a project unto itself, but suffice it to say that at this point, as Irwin continues to battle, the gift that he has bequeathed to many is how to infuse mentorship with loving kindness.
Here is a brief synopsis of the story behind this optometric idea maker. Irwin was a linchpin of the Optometric Center of New York, and a foundational brick of the State University of New York’s College of Optometry. His early monograph on pleoptics and a subsequent monograph on Piagetian aspects of visual spatial intelligence were masterpieces from which one could model how to synthesize difficult concepts into guides for clinical practice. The breadth of his involvement in our profession has been breathtaking. He spearheaded the Residency program in vision therapy at SUNY. He served as the founding editor of the Journal of Behavioral Optometry for OEP. He served with distinction on ACOE, the Committee that accredits College of Optometry programs. He implemented the first clinical optometric program dedicated to acquired brain injury. His last involvement in Optometry was serving with distinction as Chair of the Examining Board for COVD. The commonality in all these endeavors is that they required Irwin to collaborate heavily with others, but he went beyond collaboration to insure that those whom he mentored could carry forth his ideas. And he demonstrated such deep pride in, and affection for the legions that he inspired and mentored.
As I write this, I’m listening to Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band, written in tribute to his father. I love his live version of this in which he takes pride in having written the song while his father was still alive and able to enjoy it.
The lyrics to this song resonated with me when my father passed, and when we lost Harold Solan. It comes to me again as I reflect on Irwin’s legacy, and how even in his final phase of life he serves as an inspirational mentor and guide. In this instance, there isn’t any remorse in not having told Irwin I love him near enough. Each precious time we spoke on the phone over the past year, we ended the conversation with love and a virtual hug. I hope you can still read this, Irwin:
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 …