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An innovator and a role model

EuroTimes Executive Editor Colin Kerr remembers Sir Harold Ridley and a momentous moment for the ESCRS

Colin Kerr

Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2019

The end of every year is a time for reflection, for looking forward to a new year and looking back on the year gone by. Some people will look further back, maybe to a previous decade or a decade before that. So as we say goodbye to 2019 and look forward to 2020, let’s go back a little further, to 1999.
This was a momentous year for the ESCRS and in particular for the then president Thomas Neuhann MD, who presented Sir Harold Ridley with the Grand Medal of Merit in Vienna in 1999.
The story behind that great event is recounted by Dr Neuhann in an extract from European Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgeons – A History (Gill & McMillan 2013).

The 50th anniversary of the intraocular lens accorded me the extraordinary privilege of honouring Harold Ridley,” he says. “The occasion deeply touched my heart. His IIIC had been more a conspiratorial circle than a society and now, the whole thing having come of age, the ESCRS was a well-regarded worldwide society and lens implantation is learned in residency. And he had lived to see that happen.”
It was on that occasion that Dr Neuhann came up with the idea of the Grand Medal of Merit, to be an extraordinary distinction not to be awarded every year but just when there is an outstanding personality. “And I had the honour to present the first Grand Medal to Harold Ridley,” he says. “It is unusual for an eye doctor like myself to feel the breath of history. That was one of those rare moments.”
Dr Neuhann met Harold Ridley on the 40th anniversary of the IOL in the US, before meeting again on the occasion of the 50th anniversary. “It was not long after that,” says Dr Neuhann, “that I realised that every country in the world had paid respect to him with the exception of Great Britain, I still have to laugh that I had the courage — some might even call it arrogance — to write to the Right Honourable Mr Tony Blair, prime minister to the Queen. I proposed Ridley for the honours list of the following year, pointing out we were lucky he had lived over 90 years, and urging that he be paid the honour that was due while he was still alive.
“I learned after some time, that he got his knighthood. Ridley was a role model to me, scientific yet practical and with the courage of his convictions: Ridley stood his ground through all the bitter moments of disrespect, which as we know today was not proof that his invention was unworthy — but said more about the limited intellectual capacity of his critics. His set an example which can serve as an inspiration: while you should always be open to learn you are on the wrong side, as long as no one has a better argument — stick to your convictions.”