J Lawton Smith Award Recipient

J Lawton Smith was one of the original founders of the COS.  He was globally well known as a neuroophthalmologist who was charismatic in practice and his faith!

The J Lawton Smith Award is given out each year at the COS Annual Meeting to an ophthalmologist who has shown a lifetime commmitment to serving the Lord through their personal practice of excellence in medicine, academic influence, and/or missionary dedication.

Because…He came….we came

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While serving in the U.S. Air Force, Hollis W. Clark had a deep Christian experience.  He felt that God was leading him to prepare for medical missionary service.  Upon discharge from military service, Hollis began the long process of medical training.  Hollis did his undergraduate study in Long Beach, California, where he met Wanda Lehr.  Hollis joined a group of Baptist youth volunteers in 1960 to work on a summer project in Haiti.  At this same time Wanda attended a college age retreat in the mountains above Los Angeles.  These two experiences had confirmed their desire to pursue mission work. 

In subsequent years, during Hollis’ schooling at the University of Miami School of Medicine, they both he and Wanda served in Haiti four times to render volunteer service.  With each new experience came a deepening of their love for the Haitian people and a sense of God’s call to a service there.

In May of 1969, Hollis and Wanda were appointed by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) to serve in Haiti.  They welcomed their daughter, Linda, shortly after their appointment.  Originally, the Clarks served at Good Samaritan Hospital in Limbe, Haiti.  In one of the Clarks’ letters they wrote, “What are we doing here?  We are doing what thousands before have done and are doing daily.  We are sharing our faith.  The place just happens to be Limbe, Haiti.”

By the time the Clark’s first furlough came due, Hollis felt he should secure additional training in tropical medicine and public health.  He proceeded to earn his master’s degree in tropical medicine and public health at Harvard School of Medicine.  Upon returning to Haiti, the Clarks went to St. Michel in central Haiti, where they gave a strong emphasis to public health care in the operation of a base clinic while serving the rural area around St. Michel.  A significant aspect of the work there was the development and utilization of Haitian personnel.

The years spent in St. Michel made the Clarks very aware of the fact that eye care in Haiti was very lacking.  During their next furlough, Hollis took studies at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida. Upon completion of his studies and returning to Haiti, Hollis began to offer much needed ophthalmology services.

In 1989 they, with the blessing of the Haitian Baptist Convention, opened the Cap Haitian Eye Center, which also used the skills of a Haitian ophthalmologist, Dr. Carmelle Lucien.  The staff directed its efforts toward cataract surgery, treating glaucoma, poor eyesight, and blindness throughout northern Haiti.

Hollis and Wanda were continually training and encouraging local people.  In a letter the Clarks wrote to the partners of the Cap Haitian Eye Center thanking them for their support, they said,  “My continued prayer is that our emphasis will not just be on providing excellent service but that the Eye Center patients and their families might realize that….because…He came….we came.”

Hollis passed away on April 15, 2022, at the age of 85, in Key Largo, Florida.

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