by Dr. Raymond Stein, Class of 8T2
Dr. Harold Stein, at age 91, on January 31, 2021, in Toronto
My father lived his life to the fullest. He never had his foot on the brake. He was passionate about family, his profession, and trying to make a difference in the lives of others. He did everything with abundant energy, enthusiasm, respect for others, and a great sense of humour. In his world, the cup was always seen as at least half-full.
Harold Stein was the son of immigrants Sadie and Louis Stein, who founded and operated a ladies’ wear store in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Harold’s parents, at least in the early years, were disappointed when Harold decided to go into medicine and not to expand their ladies’ wear business.
As a young man, Harold applied for a staff position at a summer camp in Ontario. The only available position was that of a horseback riding instructor. There was only one obstacle he faced in applying for this position – he had never been on a horse. Harold always viewed obstacles or roadblocks as a welcome challenge. He read every manual on horseback riding he could find, was interviewed, and hired! He has always been a quick learner. It was at camp that he met Anne Bochner, and they eventually married.
It was Anne’s father, Dr. Maxwell Bochner (Class of 2T3), a well-respected Toronto ophthalmologist, who convinced Harold to consider ophthalmology. At that time, Harold was leaning toward a career in obstetrics and gynecology.
For many years, Harold, Dr. Albert Cheskes (Class of 6T1), and I were practice partners at the Bochner Eye Institute, named for Harold’s father-in-law and former partner. Albert, my dad, and I would meet each week at lunch to talk about the practice and strategies for improving patient care and growth, or just life in general. Dad always saw the big picture, had creative thoughts, a funny story to share, or a magic trick to perform.
When my father and I attended ophthalmology conferences, I used to share a room with him. This was a huge mistake on my part. I would go to bed by 11 p.m. My father, after attending one function after another and meeting with friends and colleagues from around the world, would come back to the room very late at night. Rather than go to sleep, he would usually spend 30 minutes dictating all the things he learned and wanted to do. He would then set the alarm clock for 5 a.m. I was exhausted. My father, though, was well rested; he didn’t need to sleep. Eventually, I stopped sharing a room with him, but we would spend a lot of time exchanging ideas at conferences.
Harold was a Renaissance man. Today, surgeons specialize in a few procedures; he did everything. He did muscle surgery, tear duct surgery, and lid surgery; repaired orbital fractures; in addition to cataract surgery and laser vision correction. He developed an international reputation and expertise in the areas of cataract surgery, laser vision correction, and contact lenses.
During Harold’s career, he always tried to discover a better way to perform surgery or treat various conditions. The status quo was never good enough. He invented various eye surgical instruments and intraocular implants. Even though he had graduated from his ophthalmology residency 60 years ago, he managed to adapt his skills by performing the most current procedures or using diagnostic equipment.
He also pioneered a new profession, the ophthalmic assistant. Today, there are over 10,000 certified ophthalmic assistants in North America alone and training programs around the world.
Over the past year, we worked along with Dr. Mel Freeman in Seattle and Rebecca Stein, my daughter, on the 11th edition of The Ophthalmic Assistant textbook. The book has over 1,000 pages and 60 chapters, has been translated into French and Spanish, and is sold worldwide.
When you love the work you do and have a genuine concern for helping others, you really have a very special gift. Harold used his gift to promote education, research, and patient care here and abroad. He spent a month working in the jungle in Haiti, and went on numerous other medical missions to developing countries.
The more things he was involved with, the more he enjoyed what he was doing. “Stress” was not a word in his vocabulary. There was a time when he was the president of two international organizations. These unpaid positions required a significant time commitment. Harold had no complaints – he loved being busy. He always had “To Do” lists everywhere, including on the dashboard of his car. He would scribble down a few things to do at every red light – at least that’s what he told me.
Those who knew him only in his later years will recall that walking and balance were difficult for him. But I remember when he was in his 40s at the cottage, walking along an uneven path while smoking a pipe. He tripped over a tree branch, did a forward somersault, and actually landed back on his feet with the pipe still in his mouth.
During his later years, when he had considerable back pain, Harold was involved in a head-on collision on Lawrence Avenue. Despite numerous small cuts and chest pain, he showed up at work 30 minutes late. He saw his patients that morning and then went for a chest X-ray. The X-ray showed a fractured sternum. Most people do not survive this type of injury. What upset my dad was that he was late for work and had inconvenienced his patients.
Most professionals tend to slow down their clinical activities by the time they reach 75. Harold was certainly an exception. When he turned 78, he cut his clinical work back from six days a week to five. The practice was a labour of love for him. He loved being busy and productive, and seeing patients.
Harold showed respect to everyone he met. It didn’t matter if they were the president of a bank or worked at a local fast-food restaurant. Race, religion, or age didn’t matter. Harold held no grudges, he could always see the best traits in individuals. There was no one he wouldn’t have a cup of coffee or meal with. Everyone was his friend.
My father had an uncanny way of uplifting every person he met. Harold Stein will be greatly missed not only by family and friends, but his colleagues around the world, students, and thousands of patients. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.