Symposium celebrates optometry teaching career spanning seven decades

Over 70 gather to mark the 90th birthday of Emeritus Professor Robert Fletcher

Symposium celebrates optometry teaching career spanning seven decades

More than 70 former students and colleagues, co-authors and researchers gathered at City University London on 22 June to celebrate the career of Emeritus Professor Robert Fletcher on his 90th birthday.

During a teaching career which spanned seven decades, Professor Fletcher taught over 10,000 optometrists in London from over 40 countries. Many more were taught in the 20 countries where he has been invited to lecture, during his illustrious career.

For the birthday symposium, one former student from the 1950s flew in from the US to pay tribute to Professor Fletcher, together with several from mainland Europe. Many former students are now leading optometric educators throughout the world and video tribute messages were included in the event.

In addition to delivering repeated courses in Norway and Italy after his retirement, Professor Fletcher established courses at the request of governments and universities in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Israel, Iceland and Portugal.

He also assisted in the development of degree courses in New Zealand and Australia, as the numerous personal greetings sent for the celebration illustrated.

For the symposium, 14 invited speakers, all his former students, colleagues and co-authors, gave illustrated presentations. They charted Professor Fletcher’s contribution from early scleral and prosthetic contact lens design, to the design of several optometric instruments still in use today and his extensive role in examining for professional bodies and universities worldwide. 

Dr Simon Barnard gave an illuminating account of the diversity of Professor Fletcher’s interests and expertise within optometry, highlighting his pioneering role in establishing the first three-year courses in the 1950s, which then became degree courses in the 1960s.

Dr Barnard has also contributed to optometry programmes, which Professor Fletcher established in Norway and Italy, and spoke of the career enrichment, which he and colleagues had enjoyed as a result of the unique opportunities.

Vision scientist, Professor John Barbur, of City University London, highlighted the contribution that Professor Fletcher made to undergraduate and postgraduate courses in physiological optics, unique to City University London outside of the US in the late 1960s, as well as his legacy in establishing visual science as a discipline in the UK.

Professor Fletcher's leadership roles in the Colour Group of Great Britain and the International Colour Vision Society were outlined, together with his leadership in establishing the Applied Vision Association in the 1960s through the British Optical Association. These associations continue to thrive today, promoting valuable collaboration between vision scientists and clinicians worldwide.

Professor Chris Hull, divisional lead for optometry at City University London, spoke of Professor Fletcher’s legacy as the longest serving head of department during a time of great expansion at the university from the 1960s to the mid 1980s.

Norwegian students and colleagues described how, over 40 years, Professor Fletcher educated a whole generation of optometrists, establishing the only full-time course in Norway. This has now evolved into degrees at the Buskerud University in Kongsberg and is the pioneering legacy of Professor Fletcher, with his former Norwegian student, the late Jacob Hultgren.

Mr Hultgren’s ophthalmologist son, Dr Staale Hultgren, presented a moving tribute to the important professional collaboration. City University London and the Department of Optometry and Visual Science at Buskerud University have benefited from this link for 40 years as British staff, appointed by Professor Fletcher, taught short courses in Norway.

A former Italian student and former colleague, Professor Luigi Lupelli, now professor of contact lenses at the university of Rome Tre, with whom Professor Fletcher collaborated in joint research projects and textbook-writing, spoke of his legacy in educating Italian optometrists over 20 years in Rome.

There were also tributes from several second-generation international students. One was the daughter of the first ever optometrist in what is now Malaysia, who travelled by boat in 1952 to study in London. Professor and Mrs Fletcher subsequently became guardians to his five children at boarding school in the UK and one daughter studied optometry at City University London, later undertaking a PhD under Professor Fletcher's supervision.

At the symposium, delegates viewed optometric instruments designed by Professor Fletcher and books written by him, which included one on ocular anatomy that he had translated from Norwegian.

A surprise finale to the day was the showing of a colour film made by Professor Fletcher in 1958 to promote the optometry department at City University London and the profession, which was greatly enjoyed.