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Vale Emeritus Professor Barry Cole

The optometric profession has lost one of its giants with the passing of Emeritus Professor Barry Cole.

Respected as the father of modern optometry in Australia, Cole – who passed away in Melbourne on 27 January – had a career spanning six decades that involved major contributions to teaching, research and optometric care.

He qualified in optometry at the Australian (formerly Victorian) College of Optometry (ACO) in 1954 and was appointed its first fulltime lecturer in 1958. He was made the head of the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences in the University of Melbourne when it was established in 1973 and was appointed the foundation professor of optometry in the university in 1978.

According to Optometry Australia, he headed the department for 26 years where he left an indelible mark on generations of optometrists.

The organisation acknowledged the long and distinguished career of Cole who advocated to have optometry recognised as a degree course at the University of Melbourne and was integral in establishing a national college – the ACO – where he was director for 34 years.

OA said he also helped establish the world-first National Vision Research Institute in 1972 at the ACO. He was its director for five years and oversaw development of the clinic at the ACO to become embedded in Victoria’s public health system.

In 1987, he was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in recognition of service to medicine, particularly in optometry.

In his retirement Cole wrote A History of Australian Optometry, a book detailing the story of optometry in Australia and its development over 200 years, published by the ACO in 2015.

ACO CEO Ms Maureen O’Keefe described Cole as a champion of the profession.

“Professor Barry Cole was deeply connected to the Australian College of Optometry for over 60 years. He was a great champion for the optometry profession and instrumental in the establishment of the ACO’s public eye health program, the National Vision Research Institute and the College’s clinical teaching program. Barry was part of the fabric of the ACO and we are deeply grateful for all of his contributions.”

The ACO also paid tribute to Cole in The Age obituaries.

“Professor Cole was the driving force in the establishment of the College and for over 50 years he made a significant and enduring contribution to its advancement and the services it provides,” the ACO wrote.

“He played a key role in the improvement of teaching, research and optometric care at the College, while also making a valuable contribution to eyecare, particularly in Victoria and to the wider optometry profession.”

OA president Mr Darrell Baker said Cole’s widespread influence in teaching, research and academia and his passion for optometry were exceptional.

“He fought to establish university teaching for optometry in Victoria and a national college, and was an integral part of our Clinical and Experimental Optometry journal for decades. It is the end of an era but Professor Cole’s legacy will live forever throughout Australian optometry.”

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