Thursday, June 21, 2007

West Virginia University remembers founder of Eye Institute

By Eric Bowen

Jun. 19--Ophthalmologist Robert Trotter had a promising career in ophthalmic research at Harvard. But when he found out in the early 1960s that WVU was building a new medical school without an ophthalmology department, he decided to make it his work to ensure the school would include a department for eye specialists.

Trotter uprooted his family and moved back to Morgantown. For two years, he worked part-time in his brother's eye practice while he filed for grants and lobbied for money to build an ophthalmology department without the university's support.

In 1961, when he finally got a government grant, he founded the only department of ophthalmology in the state. It has grown into what is now the WVU Eye Institute.

Trotter died last year, and WVU remembered him Monday with a memorial service at the institute he worked so hard to build. He was recognized as a Distinguished Mountaineer through a proclamation from Gov. Joe Manchin.

"We're so happy to have this kind of institution," said Lionel Chisholm, vice chair of the WVU department of ophthalmology. "It all started with the commitment of Dr. Trotter. I think he deserves a tremendous amount of credit."

Trotter was a 1936 graduate of WVU and went on for medical training at Temple University, then Harvard to study ophthalmology. After founding the ophthalmology department, he served as chair for 20 years, until 1981, training dozens of doctors in ophthalmology.

When he left WVU, Trotter worked in private practice before retiring in 1988.

Trotter's wife, Jodie, said that founding the WVU ophthalmology department was a tremendous accomplishment for her late husband. He went through lean times as a clinician for two years before he received the money to build the department.

"It had to be the highest point of his life," she said. "It was that important to him."

Trotter was dedicated to WVU students, Jodie Trotter said. He was rough on his students, but they learned a lot from him.

"I think there were some that might have called him colorful names, but when it was all over, they knew it was for the best," she said.

Robert Trotter had a vision for what could be achieved at WVU when he came back to the state, said Fred Butcher, vice president for health sciences. Though WVU was just beginning to build a prominent medical school in West Virginia, he could see a future for the university.

He also wanted to care for the people of West Virginia, Butcher said. He came back home to lend his skills to the next generation of ophthalmologists.

"I think [Trotter] had instincts about what was going to happen here," Butcher said. "Things were coming up out of a cow pasture on top of a mountain. Now look what's here today."


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