• A Casual Evening with Three Giants in Ophthalmology: Zimmerman, Parks, Cogan… and A Fly-On-The-Wall

    Written By:

    It has been quite a few years now since we received that special dinner invitation and with the passage of time, many of the details remain somewhat hazy. It was the dialogue, however, that still stands out so clearly in my mind. The invitation was unexpected, but after the circumstances became apparent it was a most welcome and ultimately fascinating and memorable evening.

    The occasion was a private dinner party hosted by Lorenz Zimmerman and his wife Anastasia for a small group of close personal friends at their home in Kensington, Maryland. The evening’s guests included David and Mary Cogan from the NEI, and Marshall Parks from Washington. Each was a long- term friend of the Zimmerman’s. This was several years after Angeline, Marshall’s wife of over forty five years had died, and his close friends always made an effort to ensure that he had a charming dinner partner for the evening, usually one of their own lady friends.

    For this evening Anastasia “Stash” Zimmerman had arranged for Marshall’s dinner partner to be one of her friends, Camilla Aiken, a Washington native and attractive widow whom Marshall had met on a number of previous occasions and whose company they mutually enjoyed. What made this story interesting is that the gracious Camilla Aiken also happened to be my wife Pat’s mother, and my own dear mother in law. These were the unique circumstances that solved the mystery of our personal dinner invitation to the Zimmerman’s that evening. As it happened, Pat and I brought her mother, Camilla, to the dinner party, but Marshall insisted on escorting her home.

    It was an especially pleasant and congenial evening with these three close personal and professional friends: Zimmerman, Parks and Cogan. As the wine, spirits and fellowship flowed through the dinner hour and beyond, there were many humorous stories recalling incidents and anecdotes about themselves and other close friends.

    They were often poking fun at each other and always in jest and good humor. At one point, one of the three (and I truly can’t recall which) commented that he had to leave early the next morning as he had been invited to be the Visiting Professor and to present a Memorial lecture at Moorfields Hospital in London. Well, as if by pre-arranged signal that comment set off an immediate back-and forth discussion as to which of the other two, or both, had given that same lecture, and which of them may have actually given it first.

    With a hint of competitive spirit and obvious underlying humor, other questions then evolved as to which of them, if any, may have presented the Academy’s Jackson Memorial Lecture, or the de Schweinitz Lecture in Philadelphia, and who might have been invited to lecture at Oxford or visited Moscow. They seemed to enjoy comparing named lectures, honors and medals and it was as if they were in a jovial “can you top this” competition.

    When the Howe Medal—which is the highest honor of the American Ophthalmological Society—was mentioned, Cogan seemed to get extra points since he was ten years older than the others and was the first of the three to be honored by the AOS. They also brought up the Costenbader Lecture, since each had presented it. Marshall finally won out when they acknowledged that he had presented the Inaugural lecture in Los Angeles in 1974 with Costenbader in attendance (although, with my being Costenbader’s partner, I knew that he was recovering from a stroke at that time and could not possibly have been present).

    As the evening faded and their competitive spirit seemed to settle with all three being winners, for me it was as if I were the proverbial “fly-on-the-wall,” seeing and hearing every word and fascinated to be even a small part of the conversation of these three men for whom I had such great respect. They were jousting and bantering about their lives and careers so easily and comfortably, and with such modesty, mutual respect and generosity of spirit. It was such a memorable story that I knew even then, so many years ago, that it would need to be told and possibly retold.

    Later in 1999 ASCRS solicited the opinions of 33,000 ophthalmologists from the U.S. and abroad to identify “The Ten Most Influential Ophthalmologists of the Twentieth Century.” Both Zimmerman and Parks were on their first list and so honored, and Cogan followed in the ASCRS Hall of Fame in 2001. I’m sure that all three considered this to be among the greatest of honors, but it was Zimmerman who with a hint of that previously noted competitive spirit commented to me that it was an even greater honor for him to receive since “he has never actually been an Ophthalmologist.”

    Although Cogan, Parks and Zimmerman are no longer with us, their legacies remain immense.

    Each has been a leader and trailblazer in their respective fields: Cogan, in Neuro-ophthalmology, and Pathology; Parks, one of the two founders, and the pioneer who nearly single-handedly advanced Pediatric Ophthalmology worldwide; and Zimmerman, who established the foundations of modern ophthalmic pathology and its academic training.

    Now, years later, as I have looked more carefully into their careers and accomplishments, I could not help but be impressed with the sheer number of contributions they had made to our literature. Combined, the three published more than 1100 peer reviewed journal articles, books and book chapters (Cogan, 479; Zimmerman, 384; and Parks who was in a solo private practice, 250). They presented more than 150 named lectures and received more honors, awards and medals than I could easily count. In return, each has been duly and properly honored by their trainees and associates and their names inscribed in numerous honorary societies, lectures and medals.

    In a more recent year I had the opportunity to be with Dr. Zimmerman to congratulate him upon his receiving the “Parks Medal” from the Children’s Eye Foundation (presented by Marshall’s daughter, Grace Parks Mitchell). This award was for his lifetime’s contribution to ophthalmology. He responded once again modestly with a big smile and a comment possibly meant to include his two dear friends, “John, you know, one can never have too many medals.”