J. William Rosenthal, MD, (1922 – 2007)

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The 24th member of our “Honor Roll of Distinguished Persons

The world of collectors and also the world of eye physicians lost a revered leader when Dr. J. William Rosenthal passed away in June 2007. Bill had spent his lifetime contributing to ophthalmic history. He had been a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology for 52 years. His contributions of time and expertise to the Academy, like his similar contributions to the profession nationwide and in Louisiana and specifically New Orleans, served as an example to others.

Slide Show of Images

Among the many contributions Bill made to the Academy (AAO) over the years are:
• Founding member of the Museum of Vision, 1980
• Chair of the Museum committee, 1983-1987
• Vice Chair of the Academy Foundation Board
• Donated over 2,000 artifacts to the Museum and was its Curator of Spectacles
• Lectured numerous times during the Ophthalmic Heritage Symposium at the Academy Annual Meeting
• Established the Rosenthal Endowment to support the museum

His contributions to ophthalmic heritage are equally large, including:
• “Spectacles and Other Vision Aids: A History and Guide to Collecting”- Dr. Rosenthal’s definitive book, published in 1996
• His personal collection of vision aids can be found in museums in Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Iowa City and Washington DC
• First President and lecturer of the Ocular Heritage Society
• Member and lecturer of the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society. In 2002 he gave the prestigious Snyder Lecture to this group of historians.
• Member History of Medicine Society, Tulane University
• Ophthalmic Consultant to the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History
• Board of Trustees Member, American Optical Company Museum, Southbridge, MA
• Board of Trustees Member, New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, New Orleans LA
• Founder and Curator of the Jonas W. Rosenthal, MD Memorial Ophthalmology Museum at Tulane University
• Certified appraiser of spectacles and vision aids

Dr. Rosenthal earned his medical degree at Tulane Medical in 1945. He went on to receive his Doctor of Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1956. From 1951 to 2004 he maintained a private practice in New Orleans, LA. He was highly respected for his professional skill and his patients loved him because he was caring and personable. After his retirement in November 2004, at the age of 82, Dr. Rosenthal continued to take an interest in all activities related to ophthalmic heritage.

In addition to all this he accumulated over the years a vast collection of eyewear. This included everyday glasses, bifocals, opera glasses, lorgnettes, Eskimo glasses, Chinese and Japanese spectacles, late 18th century optical fans, magnifying glasses, spyglasses, and many other varieties. During his later years he then donated hundreds of pieces to seventeen different museums. The primary benefactor was the Museum of Vision in San Francisco, part of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Dr. Rosenthal was a remarkable individual who was always eager to share his wisdom and experience with others. His book Spectacles and other Vision Aids: A History and Guide to Collecting," is still considered one of the most definitive sources on this subject.

Bill will always be considered the “Godfather” of the Ocular Heritage Society here in the United States. He impacted our lives and will long be remembered for his smile, graceful demeanor, and voluminous knowledge. Jenny Benjamin, curator of the Museum of Vision stated, “Dr. Rosenthal devoted 27 years of service to the American Academy of Ophthalmology and its Foundation. His leadership and expertise were critical to our success and his numerous donations established the museum as a world class collection. He will be remembered always for his foresight and scholarship.”

Dr. John Tull states, “All of us who knew Bill mourn his loss, but treasure the fact that we had the opportunity to include a Giant of Ophthalmology as one of our friends. He had a keen sense of humor, which he was able to maintain even until his last days. It is most fitting that he be added to the Honor Roll of Distinguished Persons on www.antiquespectacles.com.”

Enjoy the slideshow because all of the images come from Dr. Rosenthal’s marvelous and extremely interesting 530-page reference book.


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