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December 1, 2005

Ben S. Fine, MD (1928-2005)

Arch Ophthalmol. 2005;123(12):1763. doi:10.1001/archopht.123.12.1763

On May 21, 2005, at age 76 years, Ben Sion Fine died after a long struggle with Parkinson disease. He was an active staff member of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), a practicing ophthalmologist with his partner, Jay Leon Helfgott, MD, and later also with Leon’s son, Maxwell Helfgott, MD, until his infirmity progressed and finally prevented him from continuing.

Ben S. Fine, MD.

Ben S. Fine, MD.

Ben was born in Peterboro, Ontario, and he received his undergraduate and medical training at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, graduating in 1953. From 1953 to 1956, he was an intern and then a resident in ophthalmology at the District of Columbia General Hospital, Washington, DC. He then took a fellowship at the AFIP and really never left. He was able to continue research at the AFIP and conduct a private practice at the same time. From 1956 to 1969, he was a consultant to the US surgeon general. He was on the staff of the Washington Hospital Center, Washington, DC, and a research professor at George Washington University, Washington, DC. During his career, he wrote more than 100 articles, and with coauthor Myron Yanoff, MD, he produced the books Ocular Histology: A Text and Atlas1 and Ocular Pathology: A Color Atlas,2 books that emphasized the importance of electron microscopy (EM) in understanding these subjects.

Most of us met Ben when we were fellows in ophthalmic pathology at the AFIP. Ben was a pioneer in the use of EM for the examination of ocular tissues. He freely shared his expertise and knowledge with many fellows in the eye pathology section of Lorenz Zimmerman, MD, at the AFIP during the decades that he was active there. His office and laboratory were directly across the hall from the main ophthalmic pathology section, so he was readily accessible for help, consultation, and very practical advice. As an active clinician in the practice of ophthalmology with expertise in ophthalmic pathology and EM of the eye, he was able to merge many worlds. He was certain that EM would enhance our knowledge of the pathology of the eye in ways important to the clinician. He was a mentor to many of the fellows, including those working on iris tumors where the ultrastructure helped define the tumor, to Mark Tso, MD, in his work to establish that retinoblastoma was a primary retinal tumor based on EM criteria, and to many others at a time when the EM anatomy of the eye was not well understood. Ben’s early EM work on corneal dystrophies greatly enhanced our knowledge of these conditions.

For decades, he participated in the famous AFIP ophthalmic pathology course. Early on, EM of the eye and its pathology was not part of the main course, but it was offered in an optional after-hours session. Most of the participants of the course stayed for these extra sessions. In later years, this material was incorporated into the main course. It is interesting to note that in those days, the course was offered free to the military and at very low cost to civilians. The course was a superb cooperative effort by everyone. The AFIP graciously allowed the use of its facilities. The instructors worked to prepare the lectures, which were universally acknowledged to be outstanding, and then stayed after hours to help the attendees. For those who took the course, their increased knowledge and improved skills as clinicians were proof of attendance. Ophthalmologists and residents took the course because they wanted to advance their knowledge for themselves and for the benefit of their patients. In retrospect, this was a wonderful anachronism. Ben certainly would have had an acerbic and probably caustic comment about today’s costly continuing medical education courses in exotic locales and the current continuing medical education documentation requirements.

As a Canadian citizen, Ben brought a different perspective to many things. He had a philosophical view of bureaucracy, and he taught us how to manage its nefarious absurdities. He gleefully registered each year with the appropriate government agency for resident alien status.

Ben’s greatest help to me and many other AFIP fellows was as a role model. He demonstrated that it was possible to be an excellent clinician, to do important and high-quality research, and to also have a rich family life. His wife, Fruma, and his 2 daughters, Sharon and Nina, were a constant joy. He achieved a wonderful balance of work, research, and family. He showed by example that this could and should be done. In this regard, we all hope to emulate his accomplishments. We will miss you, Ben, but we will not forget you.

Correspondence: Dr Berkow, Krieger Eye Institute, Sinai Hospital, 2411 W Belvedere Ave, Baltimore, MD 21215-5271 (jberkow@bcpl.net).

Fine  BSYanoff  M Ocular Histology: A Text and Atlas.  Hagerstown, Md Medical Dept, Harper & Row1979;
Yanoff  MFine  BS Ocular Pathology: A Color Atlas.  New York, NY Lippincott; Gower Medical Publishing1988;