A Legacy to Carry on
BY JASON J. NICHOLS, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO
As I write this, I can’t help but think that these words—no matter how carefully crafted—can never be enough to capture the essence of Brien Holden. I had just returned from Sydney—where I had spent much of July 2015 having an amazing time with my dear friends, collaborators, and colleagues at the Brien Holden Vision Institute, including Brien—when I received the call. Like many others, shock and disbelief ascended. My mind was flooded with memories as recent as having dinner with Brien just days before his death.
For the last few years, my family has spent several weeks with Brien each year in Sydney because we had several ongoing collaborative research projects. But the visits and time spent with Brien were about much more than research endeavors—they led to the blossoming of a true friendship and mutual admiration. My only regret is that I wasn’t fortunate enough to have started our relationship earlier in my career.
Many in our field regard Brien’s scientific achievements as the accomplishments that stand out relative to his career, but those who knew him closely know that he was much more than a scientist. Brien was also a shrewd businessman, but unlike many, his personal values, visions, and goals drove his business decisions. While Brien’s challenges to industry and its affiliates often created ill-will, he was relentless in pursuing his mission that undoubtedly drove his business decisions—“vision for everyone…everywhere.”
Brien was like an uncle to many, a father to some, and a friend to all. Behind the business acumen and unyielding pursuit of his goals was the most gracious and generous spirit I have ever known. I was able to see a side of Brien that opened my eyes to what it means to have a true heart of gold and to be a friend to all mankind—irrespective of age, gender, race, or any other self-defining attribute. Brien’s sense of humanitarianism and social justice was a force of nature, and he would not let anyone stand in the way of his passion to abolish inequality—a belief that he held deep in his heart and core.
Without question, the passing of Professor Brien Holden will be mourned for a very, very long time. It is common for those grieving the loss of a loved one or someone who has had a significant impact on the world to honor that person’s character and accomplishments with spoken or written words. Brien’s accomplishments, awards, tributes, and eulogies have all greatly honored him and his life. (See our tribute to his life and accomplishments starting on p. 36 of this issue.) In this instance, however, words cannot express just how deep a hole his loss has left in our community. Nor can they express the loss of his driving passion for the hundreds of millions around the world who benefited from his purpose. There has never been anyone like Brien, and there never will be.
Just a few days before he passed, Brien said to me, “Every challenge is an opportunity.” So here is our challenge—or really the goal for each of us, especially those of us who carry memories of Brien and a spark of his humanity: go out into the world and into your practices, and be more generous to people, care even more about vision needs for the underserved, and be totally and unyieldingly focused on your passion. Let his light live through your tenacious actions. That is the legacy of which he would be most proud—a legacy of serving people. Brien Holden will be missed. But more importantly, Brien Holden, and what he stood for, will be remembered. Rest in peace, mate. We all miss you.