Stephen J. Ryan, MD, President of the Doheny Eye Institute in Los Angeles and an internationally recognized expert in the field of retinal diseases and ocular trauma, died April 29, 2013 at his home in Pasadena, Calif., after battling an aggressive form of cancer.
“We have lost a giant in our field,” stated Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, Chair of the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary, UIC Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, who counts himself among the many clinicians, researchers and patients who benefitted from Dr. Ryan’s extraordinary talents and leadership.
Dr. Varma quoted American philosopher Ronald Dworkin to describe Dr. Ryan: “Without dignity our lives are only blinks of duration. But if we manage to lead a good life well, we create something more. We write a subscript to our mortality. We make our lives tiny diamonds in the cosmic sands.”
He added, “Steve Ryan was such a diamond. He was a guide, a mentor, a friend. I will miss the many chats we had together, especially dinners at our favorite Italian restaurant in Pasadena when we would share stories. He would relax and leave the worries behind. He was always a true gentleman, a man of his word. I will miss him.”
Dr. Ryan was considered by many of his peers to be among the best retinal surgeons and ophthalmic experts in the world. He was recognized as a Laureate of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Academy’s single highest honor that has been given to only a few individuals.
Jennifer Lim, MD, the Marion Schenk Esq. Chair in Ophthalmology for Research of the Aging Eye at the Infirmary, served on the Doheny faculty for 11 years. “I learned so much from Steve,” she said. “He was the ultimate clinician, scholar and mentor. He was a great listener and always offered sage advice. It was a privilege and a joy to work with him – Steve made you feel you were a vital member of his team.”
Irene Maumenee, MD, Research Professor at the Infirmary was a contemporary of Dr. Ryan’s at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. “I remember his tremendous work ethic and his infectious enthusiasm for ophthalmology and life,” she said. “He had been trained by Dr. A. Edward Maumenee, who looked upon him with tremendous paternal pride. His departure for L.A. left a hole that was never filled.”
Dr. Ryan was a long-standing member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the founding President of the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, a member and director of the W.M. Keck Foundation and a member of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.
David Pepperberg, PhD, the Searls-Schenk Professor of Ophthalmology at the Infirmary, received research funding from the Beckman Foundation and recalled Dr. Ryan with great admiration: “I knew Steve primarily through my participation in the Beckman Foundation conferences on macular degeneration that he so superbly organized and led. Steve’s devotion to ophthalmology and vision science, his tremendous professional accomplishments and his warm and engaging style made him an inspiring leader who will be long remembered.”
Dimitri Azar, MD, MBA, Dean of the University Of Illinois College Of Medicine, enjoyed professional interactions with Dr. Ryan during ophthalmology and academic medicine meetings. He said, “Steve was a highly accomplished clinician-scientist and an outstanding leader in both ophthalmology and medicine at large. His passion, energy and commitment to academic excellence have inspired many to pursue ambitious goals. He has left the world a richer place.”