Farewell to Dr. Larry Alexander, my optometric hero
Dr. Larry Alexander left us way too soon
I know that I am hurtling toward eternity each passing day, but I don't dwell on it. Life gets in the way, you know? Yet nothing makes you face you own mortality than the death of someone close.
I first met Larry Alexander when I was a green, wet-behind-the-ears second-year optometry student. I was drawn to him like a moth to a flame by his laid-back nature. He was so unlike the other professors at the school. He was not afraid to speak his mind, which he did frequently. I guess tenure gives you that freedom. He taught us ocular disease from the textbook that he wrote, Primary Care of the Posterior Segment (How dadgone cool is that? It’s now in its third edition). I busted my butt in his courses trying to impress him. If you graduated from the UABSO from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s, you knew your retina because you were taught by Larry Alexander.
To say I looked up to him wouldn't even begin to describe how I felt about the man. Hero-worship approximates it. When we were finally turned loose on the unsuspecting public in our third and fourth years, I followed him around in clinic at every opportunity like a little whipped puppy. My interest in ocular disease was born from his enthusiasm and the wisdom he shared, with me and all his students.
Moving on from UAB
We both left Birmingham around the same time. I graduated, and he took a job with a large retinal practice in Kentucky after teaching at UAB for almost 20 years. But in keeping with his gift, he still continued to teach. He made an emerging technology, optical coherence tomography, understandable to a lot of us in graduate continuing education courses, just as he had retinal disease while in the university classroom. He had an amazing ability to simplify a complex subject.
Years later, I sold my practices and returned to UAB to teach—in no small part because I wanted to be like Larry Alexander. Yet I could never match his knowledge, his intelligence, his clinical acumen, and by no means his acerbic wit. But I did feel like I’d copied him in one area: treating all of my students like they were people.