Cool Reminiscence

In the context of reviewing a textbook chapter, one of my favorite people in or out of Optometry, Dr. Nancy Torgerson, asked me something this morning about Steve Cool. Those of you who are newer to our profession may not have been exposed to Steven J. Cool, Ph.D., but he had a considerable presence in our field for about a ten year period from the late 1970s through the late 1980s.

At the time that Steve passed away on August 1, 2019 at the age of 78 he hadn’t attended a COVD meeting for many years. But at one of the meetings in the 1980s Steve was in the audience for a memorable presentation on vision and learning disabilities by Gerald Leisman. Gerry had authored a book on the subject in 1975, and when he put up a slide with some potentially questionable data, Steve Cool shot up his hand to ask a question. Dissatisfied with the response from Leisman, and sensing that some of the data may have lacked credulity, Steve tuned around, faced the audience, and announced: “Ladies and Gentleman, I’m afraid the Emperor has no clothes”, and with that strode out the door.

Several years later, at a small vision therapy meeting in Estes Park, Colorado, I had the opportunity to spend quality time with Steve. We were playing trivial pursuit in a group setting, and I got to see the softer side that was a complement to his razor sharp intellect. He could be snarky, and didn’t suffer fools lightly, but was also deeply committed to lifelong learning and in sharing his passion for assimilating information about the world.

Steve was a pioneer on many levels, and on at least two occasions he lectured at COVD on the subjects of neuroplasticity and psychoneuroimmunology, well before these terms were in the public consciousness. He would always bring a suitcase of books to his lecture, and lay them out of the table for attendees to browse. He was a particular fan of Joseph Campbell’s books on mythology, and his wide-ranging interests aptly earned him recognition as a renaissance man.

Steve’s Ph.D. was in physiological psychology and his primary field of interest as a health educator was in developmental neurobiology. His initial teaching experience was through a faculty appointment at the University of Texas-Houston while also serving as an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology. In 1979 he joined Pacific University College of Optometry and in 1987 began to teach neurorehabilitation in the Pacific University’s School of Occupational Therapy. He was drawn to both developmental optometry and occupational therapy because he saw great commonality and utility in the whole person approach of the two disciplines that was generally lacking in the medical field. He wrote about this in an article in 1990, for the second issue of the Journal of Behavioral Optometry. In that article, he called for more interactive collaboration and synergy between OT and VT, a call to action that remains timely to this day.

8 thoughts on “Cool Reminiscence

  1. Dear Len Great Memories. I knew Steve personally and he gave me my first pair of cats when I moved to Colorado—I adopted them from his lab at Pacific and named them Cirrus and Coeruleus. They lived with me for many years.

    I also loved the article Steve wrote on “What the Cat’s Brain tells the Vision Therapist’s brain” and he helped me by reading through my paper which later won the Knight Henry Award when I graduated from PCO.

    He also set up a seminar in Peaceful Valley, before that meeting moved to Estes Park, where his wife, an OT spoke with a well known Northeast male OD whose name escapes me, but I think is related to an early set of preferential looking cards. It was probably one of the first CE courses where OD’s and OT’s gave their respective views on developmental vision and sensory integration.

    Thanks for jogging these memories, Rebecca Hutchins Sent from my iPad


  2. Len, Thanks so much for this reminder of one of the best neurophysiologists I ever had the opportunity to meet and then to become a friend. Steve had left Baylor and was at Pacific University College of Optometry when we started the Oklahoma College of Optometry at Northeastern State University. Chet Pheiffer was the founding dean. He had known Steve from his time as the dean of the College of Optometry at Houston University. Chet invited Steve to come and speak to our students. It was my honor to be his host while in Oklahoma.. Although I had met him and heard him lecture at COVD, I could not say that he was a friend. During the days we were together, that changed. It was a wonderful time sharing professionally and personally. His love for functional vision and for humanity was boundless. Although I believe he could debate neurophysiology with the best of intellectuals, his “down home” personality made him fit into the southern and western community.
    Steve Cool was truly a renaissance man.
    Again, thanks for sharing and bringing back so many fond memories.

  3. Thank you for the memories, Len. Steve had an amazing mind. It is good to remember those people upon whose shoulders I try to stand. Beth

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