2018 Legacy Inductee
Richard G. Scobee, MD (1914-1952)
Legacy Summary Statement
A natural and enthusiastic teacher, he transformed the practical and theoretical understanding of strabismus into simpler and more understandable terms. His book, The Oculorotary Muscles, became a standard textbook for anyone studying strabismus. The Scobee Lecture memorializes him as founder and the first editor of the American Orthoptic Journal.
Ophthalmology lost one of its most beloved strabismus specialists only ten years into his career. It is said that Scobee accomplished more in that decade than most colleagues manage in a lifetime.
Born in Sherman, Texas in November 1914, Scobee spent his childhood in El Paso. He obtained his undergraduate degree in pre-medical studies from Rice University graduating in 1935. He received his MD degree from the University of Texas Medical School at Galveston in 1939 followed by internship at Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. He moved to St. Louis in July 1940 for specialty training in ophthalmology at Washington University. He passed his boards in 1943 becoming a full-time assistant in the ophthalmology department.
In 1944 Scobee joined the US Army Air Forces assigned to the Department of Ophthalmology of the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field in Texas. This promoted his interest in ocular motility as there were many unanswered questions about normal and abnormal ocular muscle balance. Heterophoria was of predominant interest in pilot training. The School of Aviation published many of his projects. He returned to Washington University in Sept 1945 as instructor and director of graduate training in ophthalmology. He revamped the “Muscle Clinic” which he supervised until his death. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1948.
Although younger, Scobee was a contemporary of Hermann Burian and Walter Lancaster and became involved in formalizing the training of ophthalmologists. As a visiting instructor, he taught didactic courses at the Lancaster Course held in Maine during the summer. During this time Orthoptics was developing as a career. Having taught in the Lancaster 6-week instruction course for orthoptists, Scobee was aware that few ophthalmologists understood the sensory aspects of strabismus and realized the value of having his own orthoptists in St. Louis. In 1948, with two certified orthoptists, an orthoptic training program was established at Washington University. Five orthoptic students completed training before his death four years later.
He was known as a gifted teacher with the rare talent of being able to present complex concepts in simple terms. His lectures on ocular motility formed the basis of his still popular textbook. The Oculorotary Muscles was published in 1947; its second edition had just been completed at the time of his death. He was a member and board examiner of the newly formed American Orthoptic Council, and helped develop the scientific sessions and instructions courses for orthoptists held at the annual meeting of the Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at the Palmer House in Chicago. In 1951 he was instrumental in establishing the American Orthoptic Journal of which he was its first Editor.
He was an inspiring teacher and a popular and convincing speaker who participated in scientific programs of many organizations. Despite his schedule, he found time to enjoy his family, his stamp collecting and was addicted to detective stories. Known for his enthusiasm and energy, Scobee’s sudden and untimely death in June 1952 at the age of 37 caused a shockwave of grief throughout the ophthalmology community, especially among those in the emerging specialty of strabismus. This loss was paramount at Washington University where he was described as the “spark plug” of the department.
It was a sad twist of fate that just before Scobee’s sudden death he had completed the obituary for his friend and colleague Walter Lancaster who had died 6 months before, and the two obituaries appeared together in the same issue. Both Scobee and Lancaster were named as original members of the Squint Club following their deaths. The origin of the Squint Club was a strabismus symposium held at the University of Iowa in 1949. The participants were Francis Adler, Harold Brown, Herman Burian, Frank Costenbader, Walter Lancaster, Richard Scobee and Kenneth Swan. The group met several times over the next few years and in 1955 decided the name for the group as the Squint Club. Scobee and Lancaster had died by then, but the Club recognized their 2 departed colleagues by naming them as original members of the group.