Why I Love Irwin Suchoff

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.

IMG_1864-2Wolfram 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 …


18 thoughts on “Why I Love Irwin Suchoff

  1. Irwin ran my VT residency at SUNY. He was a strong editor and great help when we wrote the Optometric Management of Incomitant Strabismus article for the OEP journal. During the time of my divorce, he made it a point to go out and have dinner with me from time to time. With me, his greatest mentoring job was to teach me to play with the other children. And I did what I could to discourage him from smoking because some day before he is 100 all those cigarettes are going kill him.

  2. Dear Len, thanks so much for your post today. As you know, I was a SUNY VT resident in the mid ’80’s when he was the Director of Residences. While I never experienced him as a teacher in the classroom or in the clinic, he has been an invaluable teacher of mine for many years. He attended case presentations and paper presentations of the residents and we’d occasionally have some conversations and he always provided constructive feedback. I was humbled when he attended my first paper presentation at the academy meeting the fall after my residency program and was then teaching at NECO. I also learned from those who he mentored (some on the list noted above and others such as Bob Duckman), those with whom intellectual debates would occur such as with Nathan Flax, Marty Birnbaum, Elliot Forrest and many others. His ability to make connections between people and ideas and then forge a path forward was seemingly done with ease and aplomb. I came to his office one day towards the end of my residency and while I appreciated all that I had learned and put into practice, I was daunted by how much more there was to learn and integrate; both professionally and personally. So I sat at his desk which was covered with piles of books (some on pharmacology as he was updated his license) and some on various optometric topics and asked him, “how do you seemingly do it all?” “How are there enough hours in the day for you to be with your family, the college, your editing, writing, your patients and have time for self reflection and growth? ” After a long drag on his cigarette and with that knowing smiling face of his, he looked at me and became very serious and shared that no one has it all and that life is a balance. A balance that he seemed to find for himself and one that many of us still seek.

  3. Amen; All hail the DUKE! Len, this is a beautiful tribute. How important it is to be able to appreciate our mentors and give thanks to the great people that have taught us and done so much for our profession. If you consider all of the people Irwin has touched, the number of other people that have been touched by those original people, and consider the numbers of patient’s lives that improved through all of them, it is gives you a sense of how each one of us can make a significant difference in this world. You cited the many aspects of Irwin’s career and this is what makes Irwin so special. He has never been afraid to reinvent himself and move on to something different. He never let his knowledge become stale and was more than willing to learn and relearn to handle new challenges. Through it all he has been a master at making and cultivating friendships, and those friendships were always based on respect, honesty, warmth and true caring. The scope of his friendships in the profession vary from one end of the optometric spectrum to the other. That is something to truly marvel at and to try and emulate.

  4. I didn’t know he was leaving us. I was not lucky enough to have a close relationship with him. But his kindness and caring I did experience. He was always so open to questions and fun to be with. It’s hard to face another great person in optometry not being with us. I said who will take their places. Being told we were. I don’t feel worthy.

    • Yes, Carol. And he is fortunate to have such loving family and extended family to ease his way, which I view as less a matter of coincidence or luck and owing more to exceptional and well-earned karma. Don’t fret about your worthiness; the marketplace tends to set that value. 😉

  5. I recall another point, which I had forgotten over the many years that Irwin and I interacted. When I was one of Irwin’s residents, he called my into his office, set me down, and said, “Cook, you did so very well during your interviews. You really had us fooled!” Nothing quite like calling a spade a spade. Considering the circumstances, which I won’t go into here, he was right. Now I laugh whenever I recall the incident, although at the time I wasn’t laughing–and neither was Irwin. He may still be right, for that matter.

  6. If asked to describe my professional “upbringing,” it’s about growing up on the 2nd floor at 100 East 24th Street. How lucky can a girl get! I had two optometric fathers, Irwin and Harold. Irwin has always been so supportive of women in our profession. If I made a mistake, he would remind me that “there is no crying in optometry,” and help me move past that obstacle with pride and confidence. I always hope to pay it forward.

  7. For all the mentors I’ve had over all my years, Irwin’s feet made the deepest imprints. While at SUNY, he would come to us residents and lift us up. I remember him saying that he thought it was great for us to moonlight on Saturdays, just to understand our value. We were just out of school, so we didn’t have much confidence in our worth, and had even less money in our pockets. I remember him talking about young patients and saying “I love that kid.” He really meant it. He seemed to appreciate every person whether five years old or 75 years old, for their uniqueness as a person. He loved optometry and fortunately for us, always worked to keep visual training, vision therapy and re/habilitative care in its rightful place in the profession. His scholarship is deep in breath and with, and he will leave us with a challenge to continue his work.

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