9 December 2019

Professor Ronald Frederick John Mallett FCOptom, DOrth: 1928-2019

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Ronald Mallett, on 4th December 2019, at the age of 91.

He was a true innovator in optometry and contributed so much to our understanding of clinical binocular vision anomalies. 

Ronald Mallett qualified as an optometrist in 1952 by way of the former National Association of Opticians. As a result of the consolidation of the optical qualifying bodies he was admitted as a Fellow of the British Optical Association in 1956 and, in 1958, started working at the London Refraction Hospital (LRH; which years later became the Institute of Optometry). In those days, many optometrists worked as volunteers in the LRH clinics to gain experience, learn from luminaries of the profession, and to provide eyecare to a needy population. Ron Mallett started as one of these volunteers, working three nights a week. He also continued studying and gained the higher qualification of Diploma in Orthoptics in about 1962.

After he had been at the LRH for three years Ron Mallett started teaching and by the early 1960s he was one of the elite group of full time staff at the LRH. He continued as Senior Lecturer there until retirement in 1992. His expertise in binocular vision and orthoptics led to his appointment as visiting lecturer at City University and he taught orthoptics there for 20 years, and at the LRH for over 30 years. Ron became widely respected by all who worked with him for his outstanding skills as a clinician. Many well-known optometrists owe, at least in part, their knowledge and interest in orthoptics to Ronald, including Ronald Rabbetts, Richard Pearson, Robert Pilgrim, Michael Banes, Geoff Roberson, and Professors Michel Millodot, David Edgar, David Thomson, Bruce Evans, Mark Bullimore and Lyndon Jones. This list is just a sample of the countless people Ron taught. Many young clinicians were inspired by Ron's analytical approach to the subject, questioning received wisdom and emphasising practical clinical approaches. In 1972, Ron took a sabbatical in the USA where he was a Visiting Professor at the Optometry School at Indiana for two semesters. He also lectured at Berkeley and Houston and in other countries, including South Africa.

Ron Mallett is perhaps best known for the equipment he invented, which features virtually every optometric consulting room in the UK and in many other countries. He started building his own optical equipment when he was training and produced the first Mallett Unit in 1964. Over many decades he continued to develop distance and near vision orthoptic tests and test charts, most famously his fixation disparity test (OXO Test), first described in 1966, which was originally developed in collaboration with Archer-Elliott Ltd and is still supplied by Keeler. This equipment has greatly simplified the diagnosis of decompensated heterophoria and must have helped many thousands of patients over the years.

Ron Mallett was a prolific author, concentrating on clinical publications. He authored over 25 articles and book chapters. This is a phenomenal achievement in the days before word processors, especially considering that for much of his career Ron Mallett was working as a clinician 5½ days and 3 evenings a week. The fact that many of these papers were written through the night would surprise those who read the articles and are impressed by the clarity with which they demystified an often misunderstood topic. A Founding Fellow of The College of Optometrists in 1980, he was also a College Examiner in Orthoptics. In 2014, in recognition of his contribution to optometry, Ron Mallett was awarded a Lifetime Fellowship of the College.

Ron lived for many years near Brentwood in Essex and continued throughout his retirement in maintaining an interest in optometry. He remained in touch with some of the clinicians and lecturers who owe their interest and solid grounding to this most knowledgeable and thoughtful clinician and teacher.