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.