William H. Knobloch, MD (1926-2005) | JAMA Ophthalmology | JAMA Network
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March 2006

William H. Knobloch, MD (1926-2005)

Arch Ophthalmol. 2006;124(3):431. doi:10.1001/archopht.124.3.431

On June 20, 2005, William Hunter Knobloch, at age 78, died following complications of spinal surgery. Dr Knobloch was born in Frankfort, Ky, and raised in Oklahoma. At age 16 he joined the navy and served as a radio technician in the submarine service during World War II. On completion of his service obligations, Dr Knobloch graduated from Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, with a degree in zoology and subsequently graduated from the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine, Oklahoma City, in 1952, in the top 5% of his class.

William H. Knobloch, MD

William H. Knobloch, MD

Following internship and several years of general family practice in North Dakota, Dr Knobloch completed an ophthalmology residency at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. After a retinal fellowship at Washington University in St Louis, under the direction of Paul Cibis, MD, Dr Knobloch joined the University of Minnesota faculty in 1964. Dr Knobloch was the first trained subspecialist in retinal disease in the upper Midwest and developed an extremely active clinical practice. Dr Knobloch was a superb surgeon and ultimately operated on more than 10 000 patients with rhegmatogenous retinal detachment. Dr Knobloch spent his entire academic career in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Minnesota before retiring in 1996 with the rank of professor. During his career, Dr Knobloch served the department in a variety of positions including interim chairman, director of the retina service, and founder and director of the genetics eye clinic. Despite an immense workload, Dr Knobloch was known for his near-photographic memory of individual eyes and especially for remembering specific details of his patients' lives, details that let the patients know he had an interest in them beyond their ophthalmic difficulty.

With respect to research interests, Dr Knobloch was primarily interested in reporting new clinical observations. His major contribution, Knobloch syndrome, was related to inherited retinal detachment and is a known clinical entity with a specific genetic mutation. Dr Knobloch was involved in a large variety of national and local prospective clinical trials related to diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachment, retinopathy of prematurity, genetic retinal disease, and ocular injury.

Dr Knobloch was a member of many medical organizations. Included among these organizations were the Retina Society, the American Ophthalmological Society, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Dr Knobloch was a highly effective and stimulating teacher, whether in the operating room, clinic, or classroom. He was awarded the University of Minnesota Medical School Distinguished Teaching Award for teaching ophthalmology to second-year medical students. Perhaps of greater importance to the more than 160 ophthalmic residents who trained under Dr Knobloch was his ability to demonstrate the attributes of an Osler physician: intelligence, honesty, integrity, and compassion.

Dr Knobloch was past president of the Minnesota Academy of Ophthalmology and received the Academy's first Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award in recognition of the charitable services he performed in Africa, China, and the local community. He also received the University of Minnesota Alumni Association Harold S. Diehl Award for outstanding professional contributions throughout his career and the Minnesota Academy of Ophthalmology Budd Appleton Award for service in ophthalmology.

Dr Knobloch never forgot the financial difficulties he and his family experienced during the early years of his training or the kindness and generosity of others. Dr Knobloch and his first wife Vel had 3 of their 6 children before he completed medical school. His education was supported by the GI Bill, outside work, and acts of generosity by mentors. Following Vel's death in 1987, Dr Knobloch established the Knobloch Medical Student Research Fund and the Knobloch Retina and Research Education Fund. These scholarships help to lighten the financial burden for current and future medical students at the University of Minnesota.

On Dr Knobloch's retirement, the University established an annual Knobloch Lectureship in his honor. The William H. Knobloch Retina Chair was established in his honor through contributions from his many patients and the Minnesota Lions Club. Dr Knobloch and his second wife Donna enjoyed US and international travel prior to the onset of a series of protracted illnesses that restricted his activities and required Donna's constant vigil.

Dr Knobloch is preceded in death by his first wife, Vel, and 2 children. He is survived by his wife Donna, 5 children, 11 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

Dr Knobloch was a complex and remarkable individual. Whether repairing a detached retina, teaching in the clinic, driving a red Corvette, or making maple syrup at his lake home, Dr Knobloch set a standard few can hope to achieve. Patients, students, the ophthalmic community, and the University were fortunate that Dr Knobloch remained in Minnesota. Dr Knobloch's exemplary life and career will continue to set a standard for us all.

Correspondence: Dr Ramsay, University of Minnesota, Department of Ophthalmology, MMC 493, 420 Delaware St SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455 (vrs@visi.com).