Another month, another loss. In late October, just as this year‘s Academy of Optometry meeting was getting into full swing, news broke that Stuart Richer, OD, PhD, had passed away. With the recent death of Art Epstein still on our minds, we had to process the news of another lion of the profession leaving us. 

Dr. Richer was a tireless advocate for the notion that health and wellness interventions are integral parts of optometry’s public mandate. During his time as president of the Ocular Wellness and Nutrition Society (OWNS), he championed that idea and worked hard to bring it into the mainstream. Like his predecessor at OWNS, Jeff Anshel, and successor, Julie Poteet, Dr. Richer took up the charge to overcome the misapprehension that wellness is a niche area of eye care or something nice to address with patients “when there’s time.” What could be more fundamental to healthcare than a mindset of prevention? As with so many other things, health problems are incalculably harder to tackle after they’ve taken root.

We have our work cut out for us, it seems. A new estimate of AMD prevalence, just published in JAMA Ophthalmology, informs us that 20 million Americans currently have the disease. Obviously, that number will only rise. Thankfully, the mindset that optometrists can play an active role in mitigating this disease is no longer controversial, in no small measure because of Dr. Richer.

“Stu, as he is affectionately known to many, was a brilliant, widely respected luminary, innovator, researcher, professor and compassionate human who has changed the way we think about taking care of patients,” wrote his friend and colleague Dorothy Hitchmoth, OD, in a tribute on her LinkedIn page. “Dr. Richer’s contributions to the science of vision loss prevention cannot be understated. His clinical and laboratory discoveries have given hope that vision loss from age-related macular degeneration and other causes of visual impairment and poor health can be prevented.”

I had the privilege of working with Dr. Richer on a recurring supplement to this magazine called Wellness Essentials for Clinical Practice, produced in conjunction with OWNS, and always admired his ability to communicate complex ideas in a simple way. When someone with such depth of expertise as Dr. Richer possessed commits to sharing it with their colleagues, the entire field expands and grows.

More so that most professions, optometry has always moved forward on the backs of the innovators who brought their priorities and persistence to it. From the early days of Charles Prentice and Andrew Cross to more recent icons like Larry Alexander and Brien Holden, optometry has advanced when someone steps up and shows others what the profession could and should become next. Stu certainly fits that mold.

“He will be most known for his compassion, empathy and respect for patients and providers alike,” Dr. Hitchmoth concluded in her remembrance of Dr. Richer. “Undoubtedly, his work forms the foundation for a holistic approach within our profession toward the prevention of vision loss, function and life.”