Dr. L. Harrell Pierce, 87, innovative eye surgeon

January 21, 2001|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Dr. L. Harrell Pierce, a distinguished eye surgeon whose pioneering techniques drew patients from all over the country, died Thursday of heart failure at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 87.

An associate professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dr. Pierce was the founder and co-director of the retina clinic at the Wilmer Eye Institute of Johns Hopkins Hospital. In the early 1950s, he was the first surgeon in the mid-Atlantic region to employ new methods that dramatically improved the success rate of surgery to repair detached retinas, said his longtime colleague, Dr. Robert B. Welch.

During 31 years as an ophthalmologist, Dr. Pierce performed more than 7,500 operations, about 6,000 of them retina repairs.

It was painstaking work, "and it was perfect for him, because he was a perfectionist who tended to detail," said his wife, Lesley Richardson Pierce.

Dr. Pierce relaxed by tending the 36 rosebushes around his Roland Park home, she said.

Dr. Pierce was born in Sunbury, N.C. As a teen-ager, he worked in his father's general store and at a sawmill, and performed on a local radio show, playing guitar and harmonica.

He aspired to a career in the Army, and won an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but his hopes were dashed by asthma. He graduated instead from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., in 1935, and from Harvard Medical School in 1939.

Dr. Pierce trained in internal medicine at University of Maryland Hospital. After five years as an internist in private practice, he decided to pursue ophthalmology and began a residency at the Wilmer Eye Institute.

During a one-year fellowship at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, he learned the latest retinal surgery techniques and brought them back to Baltimore. The retina clinic he established in 1952 was one of the first specialty clinics at Hopkins, Dr. Welch said.

When he retired in 1984, the Wilmer Eye Institute established the L. Harrell Pierce Award for excellence in teaching.

Dr. Pierce lived in Roland Park for 48 years before moving to Blakehurst Retirement Community in 1999. He was a member of the Lister Society - an association of University of Maryland Medical School alumni - the Johns Hopkins Club and the Gibson Island Club.

He was a devoted fan of the Baltimore Colts and an avid gardener. His second home on Gibson Island was frequently featured on garden tours. After retirement, he took up the harmonica again, Mrs. Pierce said.

After a private funeral and burial in Sunbury, N.C., a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 3 at Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St.

Dr. Pierce's first wife, Louie Elizabeth Jones Pierce, died in 1962.

In addition to his second wife, whom he married in 1972, he is survived by three children, Dr. Leslie H. Pierce of Bethesda, Dr. Letitia Pierce Robson of Riderwood and Beverly Pierce Michel of Woodbrook; two stepchildren, Nicholas Richardson of Wiltondale and Sarah Kanne of Chevy Chase; and 13 grandchildren.

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