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November 2004

Frank Counsel Winter, MD (1922-2004)

Arch Ophthalmol. 2004;122(11):1734-1735. doi:10.1001/archopht.122.11.1734

Frank Counsel Winter (Figure),an exceptional ophthalmologist, ophthalmic pathologist, the head of 2 universityeye programs, and a man of wide interests who influenced many people withhis warmth, sincerity, and talents, died January 7, 2004, at age 81 years.He was dedicated to international ophthalmology, lived in Botswana for 4 years,and founded the Christian Eye Ministry (CEM). I am fortunate to have had himas a friend and mentor for more than 30 years.

Frank Counsel Winter, MD.

Frank Counsel Winter, MD.

Frank had great compassion for everyone he met, and people could sensethat when they spoke together. Enthusiastic and energetic, he embraced lifefully. He traveled extensively, with a particular fondness for bird watching,fly fishing, and horseback riding—especially in the High Sierras inCalifornia.

Born in Charlotte, NC, on June 12, 1922, Frank grew up in southern California.He received both his bachelor of arts and doctor of medicine degrees fromStanford University, Stanford, Calif. After his internship, he served in theUS Navy from 1946 to 1948 (and remained in the Standby Reserve until 1955).Following his active military service, he received an ophthalmic pathologyfellowship at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC—thestart of a lifelong love of ophthalmic pathology as a tool to understandingeye diseases. His residency was back at Stanford University from 1949 to 1952under Dhormann Pischel, MD, and Jerome Bettman, MD, when the medical schoolwas still in San Francisco, Calif. Following a Heed Fellowship in Ophthalmologyat the Wilmer Institute, John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Md, he became assistantprofessor and chief of the Division of Ophthalmology, University of NorthCarolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, from 1952 to 1955.Then he moved back to California and joined the faculty at the Stanford UniversityMedical School to become the director of the Eye Pathology Laboratory (1955-1973)and chair of the Division of Ophthalmology (1959-1969). He and his mother,Clare Phillips, left a generous endowment that continues to support the StanfordEye Pathology Laboratory to this day.

During this stage of his life, he was active in prestigious ophthalmologicalsocieties. Some highlights were serving as president, Western Section Associationfor Research in Ophthalmology, Rockville, Md, 1958; founding secretary ofthe Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology, San Francisco,1964 to 1967; president of the Society of Heed Fellows, Cleveland, Ohio, 1967to 1968; and president of the Verhoeff Ophthalmic Pathology Society, 1967to 1968.

Frank was an extraordinary clinician and surgeon—both in respectto his medical skills and his relationships with patients. He made patientsfeel cared for; I still occasionally run across patients who remember Frankbecause of an impact he made on them at a personal level many years ago. Hepioneered iridocyclectomy in this country in the early 1960s and wrote severalscientific articles on this surgical technique.

But at this time, in many ways at the height of his career, when hecould have continued easily and comfortably in the academic arena of ophthalmology,he changed the course of his life. He maintained his love of ophthalmology,but he left the academic world of the United States and devoted his visionand efforts to those who are materially poor and medically underserved. Itwas a time when Frank faced personal tragedies in his family. It was a timewhen, by his words, he “changed his relationship to God from one ofmutual acceptance to one that is loving, intimate, and personal.” Hejoined the Foreign and Domestic Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church,New York, NY, and moved to Botswana from 1974 to 1979 with his wife, Joy Daniels,RN, and their 4 younger children (the older 3 were in US colleges). Therehe established and ran a national eye service. Although Frank had taken short-termvolunteer medical trips to Africa and Central America before, this was hisfirst major effort. I had the privilege to work with him in Botswana and observethe large scope of his efforts—delivering basic outpatient and surgicaleye care, piloting a plane to remote health clinics in the Kalahari Desert,organizing a nationwide trachoma control program with the World Health Organization,assisting in the development of a National Committee for the Prevention ofBlindness, and, above all, caring for patients. He seemed more satisfied treatingthe poor in Botswana than the affluent in California. Years later, I onceheard him asked what he liked to do most, and he replied, “ I guessI just prefer to be a bush doctor.”

In 1982, Frank founded the CEM, a nonprofit organization that he dedicatedto “the prevention and healing of blindness throughout the world inthe name of Jesus Christ.” The initial effort of the new organizationwas in the Gambia, West Africa, 1982 to 1986. In cooperation with the governmenthealth authorities, Frank and Joy developed a national eye health plan thatmet the economic and other priorities of the government. The CEM providedand supported a team of ophthalmic health professionals that stayed 3 yearsto help operate the plan and train counterpart nationals who remained governmentemployees.

Next, John Ackon, bishop of the Anglican Church in Cape Coast, Ghana,West Africa, asked Frank to provide service for the 2 million people in hisdiocese who had no available eye care. This simple seed led to the eventualgrowth of 4 self-sustaining eye centers in Ghana. Each center is owned andmanaged by people in the local community. The CEM donates capital equipment,offers medical advice, and organizes volunteer ophthalmologists and nursesto treat patients and train local health care professionals. As a consequenceof Frank’s initial vision, thousands of patients with eye disease havereceived care, several local ophthalmologists have learned modern ophthalmicmicrosurgery, the level of eye care in Ghana has been raised, and scores ofvolunteer ophthalmologists from the United States (and several other countries)have been enriched by their experiences in Ghana.

In 1988, Frank hada myocardial infarction, the first in a series ofdifficulties relating to coronary artery disease. In 1991, he was hospitalizedin Africa with a second episode. Consequently, he was unable to return toAfrica, but he continued to lead the CEM with his knowledge, optimism, vision,and financial support until his death. In the early 1990s, the CEM mergedwith International Aid, a larger nonprofit health care organization. Today,the work in Ghana continues, and in addition, a new eye center has been openedin Honduras in partnership with the local Vida Abundante Church.

Frank spent his last years in La Jolla, Calif, where he remained activein the Episcopal Church. He taught a weekly Bible class for ex-offenders ina halfway house near the Mexican border. He authored a book, “UnderstandingEphesians,” which was published just days before his death. In August2003, he received the J. Lawton Smith Award from the Christian OphthalmologySociety, which is inscribed: “To Dr Frank C. Winter, for practicingfirst class medicine in a spirit of love.”

Correspondence: Dr Egbert, Eye Clinic, Blake-WilburClinic Building, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305 (egbert@stanford.edu).