Former Wilmer Eye Institute director dies Maumenee a pioneer in treating eye disease

January 20, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Alfred Edward Maumenee Jr., a world renowned ophthalmologist and former director of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital, died in his sleep Sunday at his home in Port Clear, Ala. He was 84.

Dr. Maumenee was considered both a pioneer in the treatment and prevention of eye disease and the foremost corneal transplant and cataract surgeon in the world, according to colleagues.

In a career that spanned more than 50 years, he managed to touch every facet of ophthalmology. He made significant discoveries in the detection and treatment of retinal malfunctions, macular degeneration and several other eye diseases including glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness.

"Dr. Maumenee was one of the most famous names and towering figures of ophthalmology in the 20th century," said Dr. Morton Goldberg, director and chief ophthalmologist of the Wilmer Institute since 1989.

During his tenure as director of the institute from 1955 to 1979, Dr. Maumenee trained more academicians and future directors of departments of ophthalmology than anyone else in the world.

He was also instrumental in the founding, in 1968, of the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health and the establishment of a nationwide system of eye banks.

"He was a dynamic leader who did it all," said Dr. Walter J. Stark, professor of ophthalmology and director of cornea and cataract services at Wilmer.

For all of his accomplishments and celebrity, Dr. Maumenee remained a gentle Southerner with an impeccable manner, old-fashioned demeanor and an unfailing kindness. Despite his years in the North, his voice still retained traces of his native Alabama.

He was born in 1913 in Mobile, Ala., and raised in Birmingham, the son of Dr. Alfred Edward Maumenee, an ophthalmologist, and Lulie Martha Maumenee.

At an early age, he decided to follow in his father's footsteps and after graduation from high school entered the University of Alabama, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1934.

He began his medical studies there, later transferring to Cornell Medical College in Ithaca, N.Y., where he earned his medical degree in 1938. Arriving at Wilmer Institute in 1938 to begin his residency, Dr. Maumenee stated that his goal was to become the "best ophthalmologist in the world."

He studied under the legendary Dr. Alan C. Woods, who in 1934 had succeeded Dr. William H. Wilmer, the founder of the institute. Dr. Maumenee served as resident ophthalmologist from to 1943.

He served in the Navy from 1943 to 1945 and returned to Hopkins as an associate professor when the war ended.

In 1948, he was named professor of surgery in ophthalmology and chief of the division of ophthalmology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, a position he held until being appointed the third director of Wilmer in 1955.

His years there were marked by physical expansion of the institute as well as significant advances in ophthalmologic instrumentation, research and teaching.

"He brought a whole new perspective to Wilmer when he came," said Dr. Arnall Patz, who headed the institute from 1979 to 1989.

"He was one of the pioneers in the use of fluorescein, a dye which allows the physician to photograph the retina as the blood flows through it. Today, it is a standard diagnostic practice," he -- said.

"He had many God-given gifts, incredible wisdom and an uncanny ability to size up a situation quickly and get right to the core of it. He was a man of marvelous inspiration and was a great man of science," said Dr. Patz.

His work with corneal transplants led to the founding of eye banks throughout the nation, which meant patients no longer had to wait years for a transplant.

His reputation as a teacher brought medical students from all over the world to Hopkins, where he was affectionately known as "The Prof."

"He was a dynamic leader who was primarily interested in the education of ophthalmologists and was a tremendous mentor," said Dr. Stark.

Gifted with a fecund mind that generated endless ideas, he was known for dispensing his ideas to students.

"He set impossibly high standards for himself and his students but he had the ability to get people to achieve on his level," said Dr. Goldberg, who described him as a man who "reflected a glow and had tremendous charisma."

Said Dr. Stark, "He worked with his students and encouraged them to make meaningful discoveries and never wanted any credit for his role. He wanted the student to benefit from the research."

Dr. Maumenee, who formerly resided in Guilford and later in Stevenson, retired in 1991 and returned to Alabama. But he continued to be in demand as a consultant and often spent part of his day answering questions from eye experts throughout the world.

The Maumenee Building at Wilmer, which was dedicated several years ago, was named in recognition of his contributions. His numerous honors included the prestigious Friedenwald Award, the leading research prize in American ophthalmology.

"He trained the next generation of ophthalmologists and succeeded in leaving behind a legacy of excellence," said his former wife of 20 years, Dr. Irene Maumenee, director at Hopkins of the Center for Hereditary Eye Diseases.

A memorial service will be held tomorrow in Daphne, Ala. Plans for a memorial service in Baltimore are incomplete.

He was married in 1949 to the former Anne E. Gunnis, who died many years ago; he is survived by his wife of five years, the former Sue Ballard; three sons, Alfred E. Maumenee III of Daphne, Ala., Nicholas R. Maumenee and Niels K. Maumenee, both of Baltimore; a daughter, Anne Elizabeth Nelson of Easton; a brother, Radcliff Maumenee of Daphne; and four grandchildren.

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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