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August 1, 2005

Ian McLean, MD (1943-2004)

Arch Ophthalmol. 2005;123(8):1160. doi:10.1001/archopht.123.8.1160

When I came to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (Washington, DC) as a fellow in 1975, the Ophthalmic Division was in full swing, filled with the rising and risen stars of ophthalmic pathology. Lorenz Zimmerman was chief; his senior faculty included Marc Cho, Ben Fine, and Ray Font; and my fellow fellows included Fred Jakobiec, Ralph Eagle, and Narsing Rao. There amid these luminaries walked an unimposing man with curly black hair, a slightly askew US Army major’s uniform, and an air of intense concentration, one might almost say befuddlement. When a new arrival noticed this professorial type wandering down the hall with a stack of cases under his arm, he asked Fred Jakobiec, “Who the hell is that?” Fred replied, “That’s Ian McLean. He’s smarter than all the rest of us put together.”

Indeed, Ian was a kind and gentle man, but a man whose assets were not immediately apparent to the casual observer. While the rest of us studied shapes and structures, cells and organelles, and membranes, he sought the deeper meaning that lay beneath the images. At a time when most ambitious pathologists were throwing themselves heart and soul into electron microscopy, Ian crafted algorithms. Beyond the aesthetics and the subtle diagnoses that challenged ophthalmic pathology during that era, he looked for answers to more fundamental questions: What will happen to the patient, and what can we do to change the natural course of events? However much he loved his microscope, he knew better than any of us that objectivity, quantitation, and statistical analysis were our only hope for enhancing diagnostic accuracy.

Ian was born in 1943 in Durham, NC. After attending college and medical school at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), he completed his pathology training at the University of Colorado (Boulder) and then joined the staff of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, where he served in various capacities for the remainder of his life. In 1983, he was appointed acting chairman of the Department of Ophthalmic Pathology and then chief of the Division of Ophthalmic Pathology, a position he retained until his death in 2004. He accumulated numerous honors, including 180 publications; membership in the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (Rockville, Md) and the American Association of Ophthalmic Pathologists (Washington); the Honor Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, San Francisco, Calif (1993); and the Gold Medal Award from the University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil (1988). He was appointed a Distinguished Scientist by the American Registry of Pathology (Washington), an associate professor of surgery and pathology at the Uniformed Services University (Bethesda, Md), a consultant in ophthalmic pathology at the National Naval Medical Center (Bethesda), and a member of the Visual Sciences Study Section at the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda).

However impressive these academic achievements, I think Ian valued most his role as a mentor and a scientist. His perspective, different from the mainstream and fraught with new complexities, had to be passed on to those who came after him, and in the end, his willingness to share his discoveries proved more challenging and nobler than the discoveries themselves. With his passing, the ophthalmic community has lost an innovator and a gifted teacher, and those who knew him have lost a generous, loyal, and beloved friend.

Correspondence: Dr Gamel, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Louisville School of Medicine, 301 E Muhammad Ali Blvd, Louisville, KY 40202 (jwgame01@louisville.edu).