Obituary: Ronald J.S MacGregor

Optometrist, practice owner and expert in ophthalmic antiques, Ronald J.S MacGregor, has died at the age of 87

Ronald J S MacGregor
Photograph Courtesy of Neil Handley, Museum Curator, The College of Optometrists

Optometry Today is sad to report the death of Ronald J.S MacGregor, an optometrist, practice owner and expert in ophthalmic antiques, who died in November 2022 at the age of 87.

The son of a pharmacist from Ardrossan in Ayrshire, MacGregor joined the Ophthalmic Optics course at Stow College, commuting daily to Glasgow.

In a tribute to the optometrist, Neil Handley, museum curator for The College of Optometrists, reflected that MacGregor had been unsure of his career ambitions and so joined the course a month late, “and had to catch up quickly.”

MacGregor completed his pre-registration in Glasgow under the supervision of Mr Gerrie, of Gerrie & Reid on George Square.

Called to complete National Service, MacGregor joined the Royal Air Force in 1957, signing up for three years on the agreement that he could serve as an optician. As a result, MacGregor spent two years at Akrotiri, Cyprus, where he ran the hospital ophthalmic unit, rising past the rank of Sergeant to the position of Instructor.

Returning to Scotland in 1960, he purchased premises in Saltcoats, North Ayrshire, and established an independent optometry practice which he ran for 35 years, training pre-registration students and expanding into the neighbouring building.

MacGregor retired from practice in 1995 and sold the business within the family, complementing his son’s practices in West Kilbride and Stranraer.

A founding member of the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors’ Club in 1982, MacGregor was a regular auctioneer from 1984 and the editor of the club’s journal Ophthalmic Antiques from 1990 to 2009.

Handley recalled that MacGregor: “Originally wrote for this publication under the pseudonym ‘Ascot’ and continued to contribute regular articles, often on the theme of ‘Something Different’, right up until his death.”

Recognised as a world expert on both the collection and the restoration of old spectacles, MacGregor was an honorary specialist adviser on historic vision aids to Christie’s Auction House.

MacGregor carried out a similar role on behalf of the College of Optometrists’ British Optical Association Museum from 1998, in addition to repairing and restoring many exhibits.

Handley shared: “It was a mark of his reputation in the field that he was approved by the College’s insurance brokers to undertake a full valuation of their collection in the year 2000.”

MacGregor was also approached by the Disney Corporation for advice and reference material, which informed the design of Scrooge and Jacob Marley’s spectacles for the 2009 animated film version of ‘A Christmas Carol.’

MacGregor authored two books: Restoring Ophthalmic Antiques (1980) and Collecting Ophthalmic Antiques (1992) and also revised Derek Davidson’s publication on Spectacles, Lorgnettes and Monocles in the Shire series (2002), adding new colour photographs drawn largely from his own collection.

A motoring enthusiast, with a particular interest in car registrations “that pre-dated general popularity,” MacGregor purchased the registration plate OO 1, standing for ‘ophthalmic optician.’

A tribute remembering MacGregor, shared: “Having otherwise resisted modern technology for much of his life, Ronald took up email and the internet on his 80th birthday and enjoyed a new lease of life with the latest means of corresponding with ophthalmic collectors across the world.

“Held in esteem, and well respected by his many friends around the globe, Ronald is described by one of them as ‘a legend for his knowledge, and gentlemanly attitude.’”