Article Date: 12/1/2009

Rex Ghormley, OD, FAAO: A Tribute
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Rex Ghormley, OD, FAAO: A Tribute

BY EDWARD S. BENNETT, OD, MSED, & DAVID SEIBEL, OD, FAAO

An icon is defined — in part — as a person who is readily recognized as having some well-known significance or embodying certain qualities. I believe this describes Dr. Rex Ghormley, whose passing on November 4th deeply impacted all who knew him and — in a year of loss in the contact lens industry — has left a large void.

Dr. Ghormley received his Doctor of Optometry degree from the Southern California College of Optometry. During the Vietnam War he served as a Lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps of the U.S. Navy for three years before entering into private practice. He settled in St. Louis and established Vision Care Consultants, which was one of the first eyecare practices limited to contact lenses.

Achievements and Honors

Dr. Ghormley was a past president of the American Academy of Optometry and was a Diplomate in the Cornea and Contact Lens Section of the Academy. During his 14-year tenure on the Academy's Executive Council, he helped make the Annual Meeting one of the highest quality educational meetings in the world while also initiating the International Academy Meetings. He was a former co-editor of International Contact Lens Clinic and published and lectured extensively in the area of contact lenses.

Dr. Ghormley received numerous honors including the Achievement Award from the American Optometric Association Contact Lens and Cornea Section and the Heart of America Contact Lens Society "Optometrist of the Year." He was also president of the Heart of America and helped grow this meeting into one of the largest in the country.

Dr. Ghormley has served as the team optometrist of the St. Louis Rams (NFL), the St. Louis Blues (NHL), and the University of Missouri Tigers. The international Academy of Optometry has awarded him with the first Blanton Collier Award for excellence in sports vision. He was an advisor to many organizations and industry partners who benefitted from his clinical knowledge, high standards, candid opinions, and his desire to mentor other people and help them become successful.

A True Icon

It's estimated that more than 1,000 people attended Dr. Ghormley's wake (visitation), which is a confirmation of the great impact he had on others.

He was one of the pioneers in contact lens practice, a devoted husband, father and clinician who mentored and inspired so many of us to be the best practitioners we could possibly be. He was an innovator who never hesitated to share his ideas to help the profession of optometry. You never left a discussion with Rex Ghormley without a few ideas that you could use, either with your patients, your practice or, for those of us who are educators, with our students. He was truly an icon in our profession, and he will be dearly missed by everyone who had the privilege to know him. His presence made our profession better.

Reflections and Memories

Dave Hansen, OD, FAAO "Rex came into my life as a colleague with a passion for our profession, and that passion gained momentum during our careers. For those who knew Rex, this was evident in his unending desire to excel as a clinician, a researcher, a lecturer, author, educator, advisor, organizer, innovator, visionary, and leader. When he formulated an idea that he believed would improve vision care or patient care, you could bet the house that it would come to fruition. Who would have thought to start an Optometric "contact lenses only" practice without ophthalmic dispensing or other subspecialties? Rex, did! He believed that a contact lens subspecialty practice would encourage co-management with his community colleagues.

"His dedication to vision care didn't stop with his patients. It extended to helping expand vision care outside of his St. Louis community by surrounding himself with individuals who had the same goals, whether they were optometrists, ophthalmologists, industry leaders, or the man on the street.

"Rex had a unique quality that put him in a special group. There are certain individuals who constantly observe the world around them, see what is needed, and make it better through action. He had this 'awareness' and constantly gave his time, his personal life, and his energy to our profession, his community, his patients, his friends, and most of all to his wonderful family.

"Rex was dedicated to our profession, and through his passion we are richer because of the standards he set for optometry — a true friend!"

Dr. Bert C. and Lydia Corwin "Rex was a visionary leader who used his knowledge to mold the future in every aspect of his life. He loved problem-solving for people and giving solutions and decisions for situations presented.

"Rex was optimistic, honest, and straightforward when he expressed his opinions on any subject. He had an unsurpassed love for the American Academy of Optometry and what it stands for, and he gave freely of his time and knowledge to benefit optometry and the AAO. He was a cherished friend whom we dearly miss."

Rick Weisbarth, OD, FAAO "Dr. Rex Ghormley was well known in the Optometric profession. He was an accomplished clinician, lecturer, leader, colleague, mentor, and friend. His passing in November 2009 came far too early in his life.

"During his career, he served as a truly inspirational role model for myself and for so many others. His contributions to patients, students, educators, clinicians, the profession, the American Academy of Optometry, International Optometry, and everything else he was involved with were all phenomenal. Everything Rex did was with 100 percent spirit and enthusiasm.

"As I reflect back over time, a number of great memories come to mind. I met Rex early in my career. I was a student at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, and he was presenting to our class about developing a successful contact lens practice. He exhibited so much enthusiasm about our profession and the contact lens field that you could feel the excitement reverberating throughout the room. Even though that was more than a few years ago, I remember it as if it were yesterday.

"Once I started with CIBA Vision, Rex and I began to interact on a regular basis. Through his involvement in clinical studies, Advisory Panel meetings, and on the lecture circuit, our friendship developed and grew. Rex took me under his wing and helped guide me through the twists and turns that presented. As a mentor, he always saw the glass as 'half full' and taught by example. There were many fun times that we shared together.

"Rex encouraged so many of us and our colleagues to 'be the best we could be' by politely challenging us to become a Fellow in the American Academy of Optometry. His love for the Academy led to him serving as president of the organization in 1991 – 1992. During his term, he stressed the importance of developing excellence in the Optometric profession both domestically as well as internationally. His leadership and guidance were very inspiring.

"As passionate as Rex was about our profession, he was equally passionate about life. Family and friends were of utmost importance. There were many times that he talked with colleagues over a glass of wine about the importance of maintaining a proper balance.

"We will truly miss this giant, but know that he left us as better practitioners, colleagues, and friends. As we remember Rex, it would be appropriate to offer a final toast: 'To Dr. Rex Ghormley — may his spirit, passion, dedication, and friendship live on forever!'"

Continuing Legacy

Dr. Ghormley's wish is that memorial donations be made to the American Optometrie Foundation for the Dr. Rex Ghormley Fund. Donations can be mailed to: AOF, 6110 Executive Boulevard, Suite 506, Rockville, MD 20852. For more information call 240-880-3086 or email aof@aaoptom.org. CLS


Dr. Bennett is an associate professor of optometry at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is executive director of the GP Lens Institute. Dr. Seibel is in private practice in St. Louis specializing in contact lenses. He is a Diplomate of the Cornea and Contact Lens Section of the American Academy of Optometry and past chair of the AOA Contact Lens and Cornea Section. He is an adjunct clinical faculty member of the Washington University School of Medicine – Department of Ophthalmology and the University of Missouri – St. Louis.



Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: December 2009