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.

Eye for God!




Award Year:

Bert knows inherently how to attract and draw young doctors in and then he “wows” them with his love for Jesus

written by Stan Pletcher

Bert is someone I’ve always looked up to from the day I met him.  Early on in my career, I was looking for mentors in oculoplastics and after meeting Bert, I realized that here was a Christian, invested in missions, who was amazing at oculoplastics and who loved to teach!  I knew that these were character traits I wanted to emulate. 

I remember running into Bert at an ASOPRS meeting years ago and he suggesting that we hold the “first ASOPRS COS meeting” at a Bob Evans which we did with one other ophthalmologist and myself.

One of the first things I noticed about Bert Bowden was that he went all out for God in all parts of his life.  As an example, his private practice, which was in Huntsville, AL was named and branded “Eye For God”  The second thing I noted early on about Bert was that he always was an “outside the box thinker”.  For instance, when I asked how he could afford to do so many missions as a solo practitioner, he told me that he paid for his missions by doing cosmetic surgery for free.  Bert, I asked, “How is that possible?”  Bert replied, “Well, I tell all of my cosmetic patients that the price if free for my surgery and that I encourage them to support my mission with any fee they’d like to pay.  Occasionally patients won’t pay anything, but patients often pay the suggested fee or more.  With this approach, I currently have a fund of $200,000 to support my mission work in the Dominican Republic.”

In the early 2000s, Bert began going to the Elias Santana Residency Program in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  He was drawn to support this program since there were no oculoplastic trained specialists in the country and no fellowship training available.  Bert committed to going 2 – 3 times per year to teach the residents oculoplastics. 

When Bert taught plastics to the residents, it seemed that every resident wanted to become a plastics specialist due to Bert’s vivacious outgoing style and obvious passion for oculoplastics.  Early on before smartphones and laptops were as common, Bert would actually bring digital cameras or laptops to give to the residents.  He would ask them to take pictures of patients to send to him in the States so that he could help with care anytime during the year.  During one trip that I accompanied him, I remember fondly watching Bert at customs in the airport sharing to the customs agent in his very rudimentary Spanish that the large suitcase had “dulce” in it.  Of course, the suitcase was filled with Crawford stents, instruments, and other medical supplies or disposables however he had made sure to have some candy in it just in case it was opened!

In addition to these gifts, Bert brought a large copy of Nathan Greene’s painting named “Be Thou My Vision” which depicts Jesus watching the cataract surgeon do cataract surgery. 

At times, if there was a particular needy patient that couldn’t receive all of their care locally while he was there, he would help to fly them back to Alabama where he would arrange housing and surgical care.

Early on, Bert handpicked two residents to invest further in as his “fellows in oculoplastics”  Over a 7 year period, Bert fully trained these two doctors to be fully independent oculoplastics specialist who would remain in the Dominican Republic caring for these needs.  At the end of this period, I asked Bert if he were still going to the DR and he said, “Why of course not, they don’t need me anymore!”

“I’m now going to Azerbajian where I’m needed to teach.”  Bert was certainly motivated to be going where he was most needed, teaching and sharing the gospel!

One year I asked Bert what was new and he told me that he now worked for Delta Airlines throwing bags every Saturday morning.  He shared that, in this way, he could get standby flights on any Delta flight which allowed him significantly reduced travel just so he could do more mission work!

A few years later, I was teaching an MSICS wetlab course at the CMDA headquarters and in walks Bert Bowden.  Being just a bit surprised, I asked Bert why he was there as an oculoplastic surgeon.  He stated simply, “well, I recognized how important knowing MSICS is for doing missions and so I wanted to be able to perform MSICS as well.”  Just a year or two later, Bert was fully trained and dedicated to going to China to perform MSICS with GANSU, Inc using their popup camper model of doing surgery.

The next I knew, Bert was telling me that he was closing his private practice.  Again, I was surprised at this given how much he was in his prime with a successful practice.  He stated that he could practice cheaper through his new situation by not owning his building and that it would allow him to be even more dedicated to be involved in mission. 

Of course, it would be no surprise to know that a few years later, Dr. Bowden retired just a bit early simply because he had become involved in a mission in Guatemala called “The Lighthouse” and he wanted to dedicate more and more time to working and serving there.  He has equipped this center with excellent equipment and established a mission that shares the gospel along with providing quality eye surgical care.  He continues to serve there and teach doctors his oculoplastics, MSICS and gospel sharing skills!

To learn more about Dr. Bowden, visit www.eyeforgod.org

JLS Award Recipients

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