Obituary: Professor Emeritus Barry Leighton Cole
Author: Simon Jones
Optician sadly reports the death of Professor Emeritus Barry Leighton Cole on January 27.
Professor Cole played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Australian College of Optometry for more than 50 years, making significant and enduring contributions to its advancement and the services it provides. 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.
In tribute, Nicholas Rumney, one of Professor Cole’s former students, writes: It was from a snowy wintry UK 1981 that I first made contact with Barry, looking to fulfil a lifelong ambition to travel to Australia.
‘In those days before backpacking took off, I wanted to return with tangible professional development. Barry was charismatic and responded immediately. He recognised motivation over ambition but had a unique skill in recognising potential and merging these three attributes. If you were clinically focused, he’d see you developed that aspect without losing scientific rigour and if you were a research academic, that you would not forget the roots of your discipline.
‘I returned to the UK in 1985, after a hugely influential three years, as one of the first UK advocates of a multidisciplinary approach to low vision and a vision, contrary to hospital orthodoxy, that low vision care could be better. His influence encouraged me to campaign for optometric continuing education, especially into therapeutics and led directly to a fascinating 12 years on the regulatory body for optometry in the UK (General Optical Council) serving quite a few years with one of his other famous students, Nathan Efron.
‘Barry’s principle skill was that of a visionary for the role of the profession of optometry which would have a solid research base underpinning a clinically diverse and politically astute role. He delegated magnificently. He taught us not to be ring fenced or constrained by the status quo, or somehow inferior to ophthalmology, something he felt particularly applied to UK optometry in the 1970s and 1980s.
‘Barry inspired his students and taught many of the great minds and leaders of optometry over four decades including, but not limited to, Professors Tony Adams, Ian Bailey, Brian Brown, Brien Holden, Leon Garner, Donald Mitchell, Robert Hess and Nathan Efron in the world of academia. Many others became leaders of the profession working in industry (Noel Brennan, Carol Lakkis) with optometric associations and regulatory bodies.
‘There is no doubt that world optometry, let alone Australian optometry, would not be punching so far above its weight were it not for Barry and I feel sure that without his influence UK optometry would have struggled to achieve legislation in therapeutics that fifteen years on remains controversial for some.
‘More than anything else I remember Barry as a friend and mentor. I endeavoured to visit him whenever I was in Melbourne and was always honoured to be greeted as an honorary Australian stirring up those Poms. He took a genuine interest in people and had a remarkable memory, if I knew then what I know now I'd have spent even more time with him.
‘I got my degree in Cardiff but my education in Melbourne.’