Vale Emeritus Professor Barry Cole AO

It is with much sadness that we advise of the passing of Emeritus Professor Barry Cole AO on 27 January 2021.

Professor Cole is one of the great men of optometry. John Nathan, another of optometry’s great men, once wrote of Barry Cole, ‘To summarise his achievements could not do him justice, to attempt to recount them in detail would take many pages.’

Barry was a charismatic leader, an innovator, a gifted scientist and a person of great drive who was to convert dreams into a reality. His contribution to the profession of optometry and to the eye health of the community, not just in his home state of Victoria but all over the world, cannot be overestimated. He was indefatigable.

John Nathan wrote that ‘Barry was a lover of fine art, fine wine and fine food, a man of natural grace with more than a touch of old-world charm. Someone who always found time to express love for his family and loyalty to his friends.’

Professor Cole followed in his father’s footsteps and obtained his LOSc in 1955 from the Australian College of Optometry, which was established in 1939. He went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in 1956, a Master of Applied Science in 1965 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1971, all from the University of Melbourne. He was also a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry.

Professor Cole was appointed as the ACO’s first full-time lecturer in 1959, taking up this role at Kurrajong House In Collins Street. Just prior to Barry’s appointment, the ACO had purchased land in Carlton near the University of Melbourne and would open a facility there in 1960. The ACO still occupies that site today.

Within three years, Barry had helped to establish the degree course in the Faculty of Applied Science, University of Melbourne (1961) and in 1962 the ACO became affiliated with the University, Professor Cole was appointed Director of Studies at the College in 1965.

The University established a Department of Optometry in 1973 and Professor Cole was appointed as its Chairman. There was a close synergy between the College and the Department of Optometry: both were accommodated in the one building with the clinic being run by the College and providing access for clinical teaching by the Department, and together they carried out collaborative research. During this period Professor Cole continued as Director of the College as well as serving as the Head of Department.

Barry was also instrumental in the establishment of the National Vision Research Institute (NVRI) in 1972, supported by Dr David Cockburn and Jean Colledge. Barry was acting Director until the appointment of a full-time director in 1977.

As joint Chairman of the Department of Optometry and Director of the College, one of Barry’s aims was to encourage the growth of the ACO clinic. An approach from the Victorian Government in 1985 enabled the establishment of a public health eye care program for people experiencing disadvantage across Victoria. This public health vision remains central to the ACO to this day. It also provided a rich learning environment for teaching and research.

Professor Cole and Gerard Crock, who was the University of Melbourne’s foundation Ringland Anderson Professor of Ophthalmology, established the now world-famous Low Vision Clinic at Kooyong for the Association for the Blind (now Vision Australia).

Professor Cole inspired his students and taught many of the great minds and leaders of optometry over four decades including, but not limited to, Professors Tony Adams, Ian Bailey, Brian Brown, Brien Holden, Leon Garner, Donald Mitchell, Robert Hess and Dr Rodney Watkins in the world of academia. Many others became leaders of the profession working with optometric associations and regulatory bodies.

Professor Cole had a particular interest in vision standards and was involved in developing many Government standards such as colour vision, driver’s vision, lighting, pilot’s vision and occupational vision. Again, his reach in these fields was world-wide. His interests extended to standards of behaviour and he fought for high ethical behaviour among optometrists. The College adopted its own code of ethics for its members under his guidance. Professor Cole served on the Victorian Optometric Registration Board, the authority that regulated optometry in Victoria for many years.

In recognition of his service to medicine, particularly in the field of optometry, Professor Cole was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1987.

After a highly regarded career, Professor Cole retired in 1999. In his retirement he embarked on another ambitious project – a book titled “A History of Australian Optometry; Two hundred years of beating the tyranny of distance and fighting political battles to find new roles and a new place in health care.’ This story of optometry in Australia was published in 2015 and makes for compelling reading for students, optometrists and others.

Another of his retirement projects was working in the College’s Cyril Kett Optometry Museum and Archive. Professor Cole spent several days each week with the other honorary archivists deep in the archives of the museum, ensuring that the ACO’s history was kept alive and well for future generations of optometrists and working together to develop the Aitken Gallery which displays an extensive collection of artefacts and was opened in 2019.

If that was not enough, Professor Cole also served in retirement as Chair of the Editorial Board of Clinical and Experimental Optometry and saw this journal rise to even higher prominence. He contributed dozens of articles of a historical nature over this time.

To say that the Australian College of Optometry would not be what it is today without Professor Barry Cole is an understatement. He was part of the ACO’s fabric and we are deeply grateful for all his contributions.

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