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January 2009

 
Feature
The End Of An Academy Era: David Noonan Retires
By Lori Baker Schena, Contributing Writer
 
 

In his decades of service, David Noonan, the Academy’s deputy executive vice president has boldly helped take the organization and the profession of ophthalmology into the future.

David J. Noonan will tell you, without hesitation and with unbridled enthusiasm, “I have had the best job in American medicine for 37 years. I have participated in the growth of the greatest specialty organization in medicine.”

Indeed, as Mr. Noonan closes an almost four-decade chapter as Academy deputy executive vice president at the end of this month, he will have taken the Academy from a staff of seven to 188, helped the leadership navigate ophthalmic innovation and bureaucratic and governmental challenges, and managed to leave the Academy one of the strongest professional organizations in medicine.

“Everyone is impressed with David’s positive attitude and friendly nature,” said H. Dunbar Hoskins, MD, Academy executive vice president who first met Mr. Noonan in 1979. “His desire to solve problems, willingness to open doors for people and his ability to facilitate a sense of goodwill in the organization will be remembered by countless people.”

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A CHANCE MEETING

Born and raised in Casper, Wyo., David Noonan graduated from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, where he worked as an emergency room technician 40 hours a week to support himself during school. This taste of the medical field led him to jobs in hospital administration and medical administration at the University of Utah and then at the University of Iowa. But he was dissatisfied in his Iowa post, ready for a new challenge.

It was at this time that a chance encounter by his then-wife with Clair M. Kos, MD, would change his destiny. Dr. Kos was executive secretary-treasurer of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology, as the Academy was known at that time. “My wife ran into Dr. Kos on the street, and he mentioned a position at the AAOO,” Mr. Noonan recalled. “Within minutes I was on the phone to Dr. Kos, and soon we moved to Rochester, Minn., to join the Academy in 1972.”

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THE BIG SPLIT

Little did Mr. Noonan know that he had joined the Academy at a historic crossroads. Since it was founded in 1896, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology had served both ophthalmologists and otolaryngologists—a marriage based on a long-standing tradition of “eye, ear, nose and throat” doctors who treated everything “above the shoulders.” However, the two specialties had grown significantly in numbers, and their respective members demanded different training protocols and had contrasting research interests and increasingly different educational pathways. By the mid-1970s, it became obvious that the specialties needed to go their separate ways.

This period of the Academy represented Mr. Noonan’s first major challenge. “The political ramifications were enormous,” he said. “My main priority was that the two organizations divided honorably.”

Bruce E. Spivey, MD, former executive vice president of the Academy, became involved in leadership of the diverging Academy in 1976 and remembers those tense days vividly. “David was a key player in facilitating the separation,” Dr. Spivey noted. “He maintained the integrity of the process in what proved to be a very difficult time. And David didn’t make any commitment to either side until the final split had occurred. Interestingly, after the legal separation, I offered him a job, and so did the otolaryngologists. David decided to stay with us.”

Soon after, in 1979, Mr. Noonan found himself coordinating the relocation of the newly formed Academy of Ophthalmology, moving himself and three staff members from Rochester to San Francisco. They were joined by three more staff members in San Francisco. One year later, only Dr. Spivey and Mr. Noonan remained from the original Rochester group. “After a trip to the International Congress of Ophthalmology in the late ’70s, Dr. Spivey and I decided that we should grow the organization to 24 people, with a budget of $2.5 million to $3 million, which would allow us to manage our Annual Meeting of 9,000.” That magic number “24” was maintained for two years before Dr. Spivey and Mr. Noonan realized that continued growth was inevitable.

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GROWING A PRODUCTIVE STAFF

Over the course of 37 years, Mr. Noonan has participated in numerous Academy milestones. These include the merger with the American Association of Ophthalmology, the evolution of the Ophthalmology journal editorial process, the development of a strong state and federal advocacy program, the creation of the Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company, the enormous growth of the Annual Meeting, and the emergence of an international program.

Yet the one accomplishment that perhaps best personifies Mr. Noonan is his development of the hardworking, energetic and caring staff. “The partnership between the physician leadership and operational staff is what I am most proud of,” he said. “We have created a culture that allows the staff to grow and flourish in a participative environment filled with dedication, humor and good grace. They are expert in translating the vision of physician leadership into reality. These 188 individuals are the most professional staff in American medicine.”

One longtime staff member is Jane Aguirre, Academy vice president of Global Alliances and publisher of EyeNet. She met Mr. Noonan in 1981, shortly after the Academy moved to San Francisco. “David has been the heart of the Academy all these years,” Ms. Aguirre said. “He has built and nurtured a culture in which the staff is attached to the organization and its mission of placing members first.”

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A FOOT IN THE PAST, A LOOK TO THE FUTURE

Two other special projects reflect Mr. Noonan’s dedication to the profession and to patients. When the physician leadership conceived of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Mr. Noonan served as the “godfather” to help bring together and manage the Museum of Vision collection, which includes instruments, drugs, artwork and books. It is now the largest collection of its kind in the United States.

In addition, Mr. Noonan worked alongside David Paton, MD, and B. Thomas Hutchinson, MD, to launch EyeCare America, a public service of the Foundation that is dedicated to reducing avoidable blindness and severe visual impairment by raising awareness about eye disease and care, providing free eye health educational materials and facilitating access to medical eye care. The specialized programs support seniors, children and those with diabetes, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

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THE PATIENT, THE PATIENT, THE PATIENT

Michael W. Brennan, MD, Academy president, said he shares a special relationship with Mr. Noonan. “We are both lucky Irishmen.” In Dr. Brennan’s 10 years as an Academy secretary, he has witnessed Mr. Noonan’s ability to “get the job done.”

One moment during the September 2008 board meeting resonated with Dr. Brennan, a graduate of West Point. He recounted the story of Mr. Noonan’s farewell address in which Mr. Noonan invoked Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s words. The renowned general gave the last great speech of his public life at West Point in 1962, in which he said, “Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps. I bid you farewell.”

Mr. Noonan gave his own take on the speech, saying that the “focus of leadership at the Academy has always been The Patient, The Patient, The Patient.”

Dr. Brennan reinterpreted these words, saying he felt Mr. Noonan really meant, “The Physician, The Profession, The Patient.” Said Dr. Brennan, “Without a doubt, he has served the physicians, the profession and the patients in his role as deputy executive vice president.” Added Dr. Spivey, “For 37 years, David had provided behind-thescenes support and leadership to the Academy board, the Academy members and the Academy staff. It was never about David. It was always about the best interest of ophthalmology first and then the organization.”

HONORS AND AFFILIATIONS

Mr. Noonan has been extensively involved in professional organizations inside and outside the field of ophthalmology. He has been affiliated with more than 25 organizations from the International Council of Ophthalmology to the Professional Convention Management Association. The following are just a few of his many honors and affiliations:

HONORS

  • Honorary Fellow, American Academy of Ophthalmology
  • Guest of Honor Award, Centennial Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology
  • Hall of Leaders Inductee, Convention Liaison Council
  • Fellow, American Society of Association Executives

AFFILIATIONS

  • Chairman, The Center for Association Leadership
  • President and Founding Chairman, Foundation of the Professional Convention Management Association
  • Twenty-five years of service as the Recording Secretary, International Council of Ophthalmology

For a complete list, please visit www.eyenetmagazine.org and find this article.

David’s desire to SOLVE PROBLEMS, willingness to OPEN DOORS for people and his ability to facilitate GOODWILL in the organization will be remembered by countless people.

-H. Dunbar Hoskins Jr., MD

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