“Frank had great compassion for everyone he met, and people could sense that when they spoke together. Enthusiastic and energetic, he embraced life fully.”written by Dr Peter Egbert, MD
Arch Ophthalmol. 2004;122(11):1734-1735. doi:10.1001/archopht.122.11.1734
Frank Counsel Winter (Figure),an exceptional ophthalmologist, ophthalmic pathologist, the head of 2 university eye programs, and a man of wide interests who influenced many people with his warmth, sincerity, and talents, died January 7, 2004, at age 81 years. He was dedicated to international ophthalmology, lived in Botswana for 4 years, and founded the Christian Eye Ministry (CEM). I am fortunate to have had him as a friend and mentor for more than 30 years.
Frank had great compassion for everyone he met, and people could sense that when they spoke together. Enthusiastic and energetic, he embraced life fully. He traveled extensively, with a particular fondness for bird watching, fly fishing, and horseback riding—especially in the High Sierras in California.
Born in Charlotte, NC, on June 12, 1922, Frank grew up in southern California. He received both his Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine degrees from Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. After his internship, he served in the US Navy from 1946 to 1948 (and remained in the Standby Reserve until 1955). Following his active military service, he received an ophthalmic pathology fellowship at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC—the start of a lifelong love of ophthalmic pathology as a tool to understanding eye diseases. His residency was back at Stanford University from 1949 to 1952 under Dhormann Pischel, MD, and Jerome Bettman, MD, when the medical school was still in San Francisco, Calif. Following a Heed Fellowship in Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Institute, John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Md, he became assistant professor and chief of the Division of Ophthalmology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, from 1952 to 1955.Then he moved back to California and joined the faculty at the Stanford University Medical School to become the director of the Eye Pathology Laboratory (1955-1973)and chair of the Division of Ophthalmology (1959-1969). He and his mother, Clare Phillips, left a generous endowment that continues to support the Stanford Eye Pathology Laboratory to this day.
During this stage of his life, he was active in prestigious ophthalmological societies. Some highlights were serving as president, Western Section Association for Research in Ophthalmology, Rockville, Md, 1958; founding secretary of the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology, San Francisco,1964 to 1967; president of the Society of Heed Fellows, Cleveland, Ohio, 1967to 1968; and president of the Verhoeff Ophthalmic Pathology Society, 1967to 1968.
Frank was an extraordinary clinician and surgeon—both in respect to his medical skills and his relationships with patients. He made patients feel cared for; I still occasionally run across patients who remember Frank because of an impact he made on them at a personal level many years ago. He pioneered iridocyclectomy in this country in the early 1960s and wrote several scientific articles on this surgical technique.
But at this time, in many ways at the height of his career, when he could have continued easily and comfortably in the academic arena of ophthalmology, he changed the course of his life. He maintained his love of ophthalmology, but he left the academic world of the United States and devoted his vision and efforts to those who are materially poor and medically underserved. It was a time when Frank faced personal tragedies in his family. It was a time when, by his words, he “changed his relationship to God from one of mutual acceptance to one that is loving, intimate, and personal.” He joined the Foreign and Domestic Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church, New York, NY, and moved to Botswana from 1974 to 1979 with his wife, Joy Daniels, RN, and their 4 younger children (the older 3 were in US colleges). There he established and ran a national eye service. Although Frank had taken short-term volunteer medical trips to Africa and Central America before, this was his first major effort. I had the privilege to work with him in Botswana and observe the large scope of his efforts—delivering basic outpatient and surgical eye care, piloting a plane to remote health clinics in the Kalahari Desert, organizing a nationwide trachoma control program with the World Health Organization, assisting in the development of a National Committee for the Prevention of Blindness, and, above all, caring for patients. He seemed more satisfied treating the poor in Botswana than the affluent in California. Years later, I once heard him asked what he liked to do most, and he replied, “ I guess I just prefer to be a bush doctor.”
In 1982, Frank founded the CEM, a nonprofit organization that he dedicated to “the prevention and healing of blindness throughout the world in the name of Jesus Christ.” The initial effort of the new organization was in the Gambia, West Africa, 1982 to 1986. In cooperation with the government health authorities, Frank and Joy developed a national eye health plan that met the economic and other priorities of the government. The CEM provided and supported a team of ophthalmic health professionals that stayed 3 years to help operate the plan and train counterpart nationals who remained government employees.
Next, John Ackon, bishop of the Anglican Church in Cape Coast, Ghana, West Africa, asked Frank to provide service for the 2 million people in his diocese who had no available eye care. This simple seed led to the eventual growth of 4 self-sustaining eye centers in Ghana. Each center is owned and managed by people in the local community. The CEM donates capital equipment, offers medical advice, and organizes volunteer ophthalmologists and nurses to treat patients and train local health care professionals. As a consequence of Frank’s initial vision, thousands of patients with eye disease have received care, several local ophthalmologists have learned modern ophthalmic microsurgery, the level of eye care in Ghana has been raised, and scores of volunteer ophthalmologists from the United States (and several other countries) have been enriched by their experiences in Ghana.
In 1988, Frank had myocardial infarction, the first in a series of difficulties relating to coronary artery disease. In 1991, he was hospitalized in Africa with a second episode. Consequently, he was unable to return to Africa, but he continued to lead the CEM with his knowledge, optimism, vision, and financial support until his death. In the early 1990s, the CEM merged with International Aid, a larger nonprofit health care organization. Today, the work in Ghana continues, and in addition, a new eye center has been opened in Honduras in partnership with the local Vida Abundante Church. Frank spent his last years in La Jolla, Calif, where he remained active in the Episcopal Church. He taught a weekly Bible class for ex-offenders in a halfway house near the Mexican border. He authored a book, “Understanding Ephesians,” which was published just days before his death. In August 2003, he received the J. Lawton Smith Award from the Christian Ophthalmology Society, which is inscribed: “To Dr Frank C. Winter, for practicing first class medicine in a spirit of love.