Charles E. Iliff III, MD, 1911-1997 | JAMA Ophthalmology | JAMA Network
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February 1998

Charles E. Iliff III, MD, 1911-1997

Arch Ophthalmol. 1998;116(2):262. doi:10.1001/archopht.116.2.262

Charles Edwin Iliff III, MD, died on August 19, 1997, in Hilton Head, SC, at the age of 86 years. His distinguished career was inextricably bound to The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md, its hospital, its medical school, and the Wilmer Eye Institute. Dr Iliff was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of physicians who sparked his interest in a career in medicine. He was graduated from Williams College, Williamstown, Mass, in 1932, and he obtained his doctor of medicine degree from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1936. Initially planning to enter the field of urology, he became fascinated with ophthalmology. Alan Churchill Woods, MD, recruited him into the residency program at the Wilmer Eye Institute, and he became the 20th chief resident in 1944. "He was one of the premier surgeons at Wilmer, one of the pioneers in ocular plastic and orbital surgery, corneal transplantation, and cataract surgery," said Robert Bond Welch, MD, of Annapolis, Md, a colleague and friend of 53 years.

Charles E. Iliff III, MD

Charles E. Iliff III, MD

Dr Iliff practiced for most of his career in the historic Marburg mansion at 14 W Mount Vernon Pl in downtown Baltimore. He encouraged other Wilmer ophthalmologists to join him in practicing in the same building, which in its "heyday" housed the private offices of some 10 Wilmer Eye Institute–trained ophthalmologists. Generous to a fault and with a love of entertaining, he hosted daily luncheons in the mansion for all attendees of the annual Wilmer Meetings during the 1960s and 1970s.

"During my own residency, Charlie was one of my personal heroes," said Morton Goldberg, MD, director of the Wilmer Eye Institute.

There was no surgical challenge too big. He was the master of intraocular surgery as well as orbital and ophthalmic plastic surgery. He was, for example, one of the first proponents of decompression of the globe for intraocular surgery via the pars plana aspiration of liquified vitreous. He had enormous technical skill and dexterity. More importantly, he was a great advocate of the Wilmer residency and of each individual resident. By his own personal mastery of clinical ophthalmology, he served as a thoroughly impressive role model for each of us. He was a giant of his time and represented the best of Wilmer ophthalmology.

Dr Iliff was the author of many articles and book chapters and served on the editorial board of the ARCHIVES. He was a devoted member of the American Ophthalmological Society, at whose meetings he, joined by Frank Walsh, MD, and Tullos Coston, MD, kept the level of intellectual stimulation and social conviviality at its highest. In 1979, with the help of 2 of his sons, W. Jackson Iliff, MD, and Nicholas T. Iliff, MD, both currently on the full-time staff of the Wilmer Eye Institute, he wrote Ocular Plastic Surgery, one of the first texts devoted solely to that subspecialty. In 1995, the Charles E. Iliff Professorship in Ophthalmology was established at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Since 1943, he had lived at Severn Oaks Farm on the Severn River close to Annapolis until moving to Hilton Head last year. In 1936, he married Elizabeth Jackson Haines, MD, and on that farm they raised their 6 children, sharing an interest in breeding ponies imported from Wales. Their only daughter, Mary Iliff Benedict, PhD, associate professor at The Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, continues to breed Welsh ponies from her parents' original line on the farm.

Dr Iliff was also an accomplished sailor on his 40-ft (12-m) yawl, the Alaris. He sailed in 2 Newport-to-Bermuda races, in an Annapolis-to-Newport race, and regularly on the Chesapeake Bay. In 1978, signing on as the cook-navigator, he joined 3 of his sons on the Alaris in the 635-mile (1016-km) Newport-to-Bermuda race, finishing in 5 days 5 hours 15 minutes and winning in the class of yachts of its size. In 1985, after the death of his wife, Dr Iliff married Esther Martin Fabing, MD, an old family friend, who died suddenly a month later. In 1986, he married Helen Johns Ossofsky, MD, who survives him. In addition to his daughter and 2 sons previously mentioned, he is also survived by 3 other sons, Charles E. Iliff IV and Anthony Iliff, both of Arnold, Md, and Timothy M. Iliff, MD, of Mobile, Ala, as well as 17 grandchildren.

In a letter written 20 years ago to his oldest son, Charlie made the following request,

As one gets older, the realization of the end becomes less of a problem and not altogether unpleasant . . . there is to be a very short service at my home, no eulogy but just a pleasant get-together—give the mourners a drink and some food and then they must go back to their own way of life. Mine has been a good one.

On Thursday, September 4, 1997, his family and close friends gathered at Severn Oaks Farm and celebrated that good life.