Anyone involved with the State University of New York’s College of Optometry in the 1970s through the 1990s knew Lenny Werner. He was one of those indomitable spirits at the College who spearheaded the program’s transition from a well-respected local optometric center to an internationally regarded degree program in Optometry. His expertise as an educator took him around the world to share his knowledge, and I recall the artifacts from his travel to China and South Africa among other places that he proudly displayed in his office. To know the man was to love him, and so many of us were fortunate to count him as a mentor and friend. When I received a call from Stu Rothman yesterday, a fellow former faculty member at S.U.N.Y., news of Lenny’s passing was the last thing I expected to hear. It’s not because Dr. Werner was of the age when news of that nature is unheard of. It’s because his mind and heart were still full of such vitality until his recent medical misfortunes that it is hard to rationalize he’s gone.
Our indelible bond stemmed from two interrelated experiences, a course on case analysis that we taught together for seven years, and a textbook that emerged from that collaboration. We were very proud of both efforts, and I fondly recall Martha Sasser, our publisher’s devleopment editor, taking Lenny, Wendy, Miriam and me out to celebrate the book’s publication 16 years ago. You’ll notice that even though authors are usually listed alphabetically, Lenny insisted on being listed first because, in his words “age before beauty”.
Our good colleague, Dr. Irwin Suchoff, who passed away earlier this year, wrote a lovely review of the book for the Journal of Behavioral Optometry when it first came out that Lenny kvelled over (for those of you who are not familiar with the term, it’s a Yiddish euphemism for deriving great pleasure). Irwin loved all of the pearls, but in particular seized upon three, and as I recall they were contributed (unsurprisingly) by Dr. Werner:
- The patient’s last doctor may have been wiser than you initially thought.
- Avoid examining close relatives; refer them to distant colleagues.
- If the patient presents with a shopping bag full of unsatisfactory spectacles, you will probably add to the collection.
Thankfully all of the reviews were positive, but what doubled us over was reading a column in Review of Optometry by the incomparable Monty Vickers five years later, in which he wrote: “I am re-reading a great book. It’s Clinical Pearls in Refractive Care by Drs. D. Leonard Werner and Leonard J. Press. You know what happens when you get two Leonards together to talk about refraction: fireworks!
Lenny and I shared a deep love of Optometry, but also of our boyhood professional sports teams – he of the New York genre and I of the Philadelphia variety. A couple of months ago, Len W – as he always signed off on his text messages to me, wrote: “How are you? Are you enjoying your sort of retirement? I expected to hear your Eagles report for this season, even though they never made it to the White House to celebrate the Super Bowl victory. We are okay. However losing friends to illness and death too frequently. Looking forward to hearing from you, and stay well.”
I texted back about my recent activities, both professional and family, and of course the obligatory health update about some cardiology issues. To which he replied with his characteristic sparkling wit: “Interesting that we have moved into a new level. We had a grandchild graduate from Michigan recently, and we will go to Seattle for a visit where her older sister now lives. Several of my activities have dried up due to lost funding for the programs – reading to the blind, and a life-long learning activity at Caldwell University. To add to this aging process, I have relented and will be fitted for hearing aids this week. Wendy and the children appropriately ganged up on me and I finally faced the facts. I too have a cardiologist but my latest visit was a good one. The cow had a good valve. My contact with Optometry now remains mostly through Rothman, who is our eye doctor. When things settle, and your cardiologist gets your act together, we should meet for lunch.”
My heart has been good to me lately, but is aching a bit because of the loss of D. Leonard Werner, O.D. He was right, as always, about making plans. We should have met for lunch.