Well known to the world of ophthalmology, J. Donald M. Gass died of pancreatic cancer on February 26, 2005, at his home in Nashville, Tenn, with his beloved family at his side. His career in and knowledge of chorioretinal diseases was unparalleled in the history of ophthalmology.
Dr Gass, the son of a physician, was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1928 and subsequently moved to Nashville. He received his BA degree from Vanderbilt University in 1953 and spent the next 3 years as a line officer in the US Navy during the Korean War. He graduated from Vanderbilt Medical School in 1957, ranked first in his class. After interning at the University of Iowa, he pursued his career in ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute of Johns Hopkins University (1958-1961). He continued his education in ocular pathology under the direction of Lorenz Zimmerman, MD, at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology for 1 year. He spent his final year of training in 1963 as chief resident of the Wilmer Eye Institute.
At the last moment during his Chief Resident year, Dr Gass decided not to enter private practice with a friend in Nashville but rather to head south to join Edward W. D. Norton, MD, the young chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Miami School of Medicine and Director of the newly founded Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Encouraged by Dr Norton and colleagues at Bascom Palmer, Dr Gass began a 32-year career in Miami, Fla, that earned the respect and praise of his colleagues worldwide. He was a superb teacher who had the patience and kindness to introduce and run a fluorescein conference on a weekly basis. He applied the technology of stereofundus photography and fluorescein angiography to his teaching conferences in the early 1960s. This type of conference has now been adapted throughout the world. In 1995, Dr Gass retired from the University of Miami as planned and returned to Nashville. He joined the Department of Ophthalmology at Vanderbilt University until his retirement in 2004.
Dr Gass was considered the “Father of Macular Diseases” and made significant contributions to our knowledge in the field of chorioretinal diseases during his career that spanned more than 40 years. He authored more than 280 scientific articles in referred journals and contributed many chapters to ophthalmology textbooks.1 He was the author of major books on macular diseases and intraocular tumors. His classic textbook Stereoscopic Atlas of Macular Diseases: Diagnosis and Treatment is now in its fourth edition.2 Dr Gass wrote seminal articles regarding clinical features and natural history of chorioretinal diseases. His knowledge and background in pathology provided the means for detailed clinicopathologic correlations demonstrating the histopathologic features of the macula in various diseases. He collected and organized clinical case series of patients with rare and confusing diseases. This spanned the gamut from A to Z—acute posterior multifocal placoid pigment epitheliopathy (APMPPE) to acute zonal occult outer retinopathy (AZOOR). He was unequivocally the ultimate consultant worldwide in his subspecialty.
Because of his innovative contributions to the field of ophthalmology, Dr Gass was voted as 1 of the 10 most influential ophthalmologists of the 20th century by his colleagues. He delivered more than 30 named lectures and received honors and awards too numerous to list here.3
Just as remarkable as Dr Gass’ professional career were his personal attributes. He was a consummate family man and always attended to his wife, Margy Ann; his children, John, Media, Carlton, Dean, and their spouses; and his 5 grandchildren. He possessed a strong and exemplary Christian faith.
He was always gracious. He possessed a pleasant and positive attitude with an underlying humility that belied his fame. He was a man of impeccable integrity and a subtle sense of humor. These attributes seemed to enhance simple solutions to complex problems and sound commonsense judgment to clinical cases. All colleagues, staff, and students enjoyed working with him. His presence in the Department of Ophthalmology played a major role in the recognition of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute as a premier eye institute as well as enhancing the whole University of Miami School of Medicine. All of us mourn his death but are thankful for his contributions to our lives as mentor, colleague, and friend.
Correspondence: Dr Flynn, 900 NW 17th St, Miami, FL 33136 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Flynn HW, Curtin VT. J. Donald M. Gass, MD (1928-2005). Arch Ophthalmol. 2005;123(7):1023. doi:10.1001/archopht.123.7.1023