Leslie Harrell Pierce, MD, founder
of the Retina Clinic at The Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute, Baltimore,
Md, and noted retinal surgeon and teacher died of heart failure at the Greater
Baltimore Medical Center on January 18, 2001.
Leslie Harrell Pierce, MD
Dr Pierce was born on November 19, 1913, in Sunbury, NC, where his father
ran a small country store. Harrell was educated in local schools and worked
in his father's store during his teenage years. Early on, Harrell aspired
to a military career and attended Oakridge Military Academy in North Carolina
before receiving an appointment to West Point in New York. Unfortunately for
Harrell at the time, he failed the physical examination owing to a chronic
childhood asthmatic condition, thus ending his hopes for an army career. Not
to be deterred he entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg,
Va, and through the guidance of family and professors turned his attention
to a career in medicine. Harrell graduated in 1935 Phi Beta Kappa and entered
Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass, where he received his MD degree in
At this point Harrell decided to apply for a rotating internship and
because his asthmatic condition had improved during his years in Boston, he
sought a position that was not too far south. Fortunately his selection brought
him to the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Here he met Dr Maurice Pincoffs
the noted internist who prevailed upon Harrell to study internal medicine.
Following a chief residency in medicine Dr Pierce entered private practice
in Baltimore which he continued for the next 5 years. During this time he
became interested in ophthalmology and sent in an application for a residency
position to Dr Alan C. Woods the director of The Wilmer Institute. He was
accepted and began his training in 1948.
Dr Woods soon tapped Harrell to become a future chief resident, which
meant that he must select a subject of study for a preceding fellowship. It
was at this time that the late S. Rodman Irvine was a visiting professor at
Wilmer, and it was he who suggested to Drs Pierce and Woods that Harrell should
seek a position with Dr Charles L. Schepens who had recently started a fellowship
program on his Retina Service at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
Harrell spent 7 months with Dr Schepens in 1951 before returning to Wilmer
where he became chief resident in 1952.
Dr Woods built the Retina Clinic for Dr Pierce and thus the first retina
service outside Boston was begun. In 1959, I joined Dr Pierce as codirector
and for the next 25 years we shared in the teaching of both residents and
fellows. Dr Pierce retired in 1984.
Harrell is remembered as the consumate retinal surgeon—precise,
methodical, and untiring. His reports were detailed and his examinations thorough.
He was known as a stickler for detail. During his career he performed over
6000 retinal detachment procedures with unexcelled surgical skill. In addition
to his teaching at The Wilmer Institute, Dr Pierce participated in a retinal
detachment course at the American Academy of Ophthalmology for many years.
Dr Pierce was a member of many societies that included The Retina Society
where he was a charter member and its third president in 1972-1973, the American
Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Medical Association, the Lister Medical
Society, and the Club Jules Gonin. In 1997 Dr Pierce received the Distinguished
Service Award from The Wilmer Institute.
Dr Pierce met his first wife at William and Mary; they wed at the end
of his first year of medical school. She died in 1962. In 1972 he married
the former Lesley Richardson, who survives him. In addition he is survived
by 3 children, 2 stepchildren, and 13 grandchildren.
Dr Pierce was buried on June 24, 2000, in a small cemetery in Sunbury,
in the Pierce family plot. A memorial service was held on February 3, 2001,
at Grace United Methodist Church in Baltimore and a second memorial was held
at the Wilmer Meetings on April 28, 2001.
Harrell Pierce will long be remembered for his contribution to our Wilmer
heritage and to the field of retinal detachment surgery.
Welch RB. Leslie Harrell Pierce, MD (1913-2001). Arch Ophthalmol. 2001;119(11):1733. doi:10.1001/archopht.119.11.1733