Charles L. Schepens

The Retina Society began as an outgrowth of alumni meetings of Retina Associates, a retina practice founded in Boston in 1951 by Charles L. Schepens. Dr. Schepens is credited with establishing retina surgery as a sub-specialty. He subsequently became known internationally as the "father of modern retinal surgery." Through his efforts and those of his trainees, new surgical procedures were developed that doubled the success rate of retinal detachment surgery to 90%. By 1951, he established The Retina Foundation, which was destined to become the world's largest independent eye research institution. Even in the early years, he won awards for his accomplishment, including the New England Ophthalmological Prize for Outstanding Ophthalmic Achievement in 1953, and the coveted Pisart Vision Award in 1995.

By 1955, weekly meetings of the fellows of Retina Associates were complemented by larger meetings of the Alumni in the fall and spring. The spring meeting was a course and the fall meeting, held during the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology, was a dinner meeting followed by a scientific panel discussion of new developments in the field. Around 1966, retina specialists who had not trained in Boston exerted pressure to attend the informal meetings held twice each year.

In the 1950's and 1960's there were four national meetings featuring as the main topic a discussion of diseases of the retina. The first two were held in Ipswich in 1959 and 1962, both of which were sponsored by the Retina Foundation of Boston. The third was held in California. The fourth meeting was in Houston in 1965, chaired by Alice McPherson. This fourth meeting had such large attendance and international participation and interest that Dr. Schepens suggested the establishment of a professional organization of retina surgeons. There was certainly precedent for this as in the Verhoeff Society and the Club Jules Gonin.

On October 17, 1966, during the American Academy of Ophthalmology, an organizational meeting was held at the Palmer House in Chicago. On the advice of P. Robb McDonald, at an alumni meeting that same week, Dr. Schepens appointed a committee of organizers including Robb McDonald, Harrell Pierce, Charles Regan, and Donald Shafer. They were instructed to pursue the general outline envisioned by Dr. Schepens and to write bylaws.

The formal founding meeting of the Retina Society was held one year later on October 29, 1967, in Chicago. Founding organizers were: Drs. Charles Schepens, Robert Brockhurst, Charles Regan and David Roby, attorney. Fifty-five candidates for charter membership were selected arbitrarily from alumni of training centers in Boston and Philadelphia, plus a few acknowledged specialists. Dohrmann Pischel was invited to be an honorary member. The list of charter members is included below. Charles L. Schepens was unanimously elected the first President. The first slate of officers also included P. Robb McDonald as Vice-President, Charles Regan as Secretary, and Donald Shafer as Treasurer. The newly formed organization exclusively for educational and scientific purposes concerning the diagnosis, care and treatment of diseases and injuries to the retina was incorporated on July 30, 1968, under chapter 130 of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (which was legally necessary because the secretary of the organization resided there).

During the first organizational year committees were formed. The Executive Committee comprised the officers, Samuel T. Adams, Edward W. D. Norton, and L. Harrell Pierce. Robert Brockhurst, chairman of the Nominating Committee, was assisted by Bayard H. Colyear, Jr., P. Robb McDonald, Charles L. Schepens, Donald M. Shafer, and Michael Shea. Anwar Shah, chairman, Matthew D. Davis, Bradley & Straatsma, and Fred M. Wilson served on the Bylaws Committee. The Program Committee selected to plan the next meeting comprised P. Robb McDonald, chairman, David O. Jesberg, Charles D. J. Regan, and Charles L. Schepens. Alice McPherson served as chairman of the first credentials committee. Other members of that Committee were: William Hagler, William Havener, Edward Norton, and. Samuel Adams. This Committee established criteria designed to keep the membership small (only 175 members) so that there would be ample time for interaction and discussion between the audience and the speakers. Robert Welch, MD, assumed the chairmanship of the Credentials Committee in 1978 when Dr. McPherson stepped down to assume the Presidency. Membership criteria were broadened considerably in 1987 because of the increased number of trained ophthalmologists specializing in vitreo-retinal diseases.

The first scientific meeting of the Retina Society was held at the New Ocean House in Swampscott, Massachusetts, September 27-28, 1968. Parenthetically, that structure burned to the ground immediately after the meeting. The topics for discussion included: congenital, hereditary, and developmental conditions related to retinal detachment; effects of prolonged illumination on the retina; and the role of cryoapplications, diathermy, and photocoagulation in retinal surgery. A tradition quickly developed for holding annual two-day scientific meetings. Beginning in 1976 it was decided to intersperse the two-day meetings with a four-day meeting every four years.

In 1978 an Award of Merit in Retina Research honoring Charles L. Schepens was established. The initial award was presented to Dr. Schepens at a Symposiurn on New and Controversial Aspects of Vitreoretinal Surgery by Alice McPherson, MD, President of Retina Research Foundation in Houston. It was intended that henceforth this award be presented at the annual Retina Society meetings in conjunction with the Charles L. Schepens Lecture. The award provides a $50,000 cash prize that includes $45,000 for the recipient's research plus a $5,000 honorarium. The award recognizes outstanding national achievement in retina research.