14 January 2019

Dr Philip J Cole OBE FCOptom: 1918-2019

We are sorry to announce the death of Dr Philip Cole OBE FCOptom.

Philip Cole who has died, aged 100, was the first ever president of the College of Optometrists, between 1980 and 1982, and a leading figure in the development of optometry as a modern healthcare profession.

He was born in 1918, just as the First World War was coming to an end, and delighted in the reminiscence that his parents hid him under the staircase while the last Zeppelin raiders flew over Essex en route to attack London. After being medically discharged from army service part way through the Second World War, due to a problem with his ears, he studied ophthalmic optics at the Northampton College in London, partly on the recommendation of a friendly optician in Ilford, and partly because to qualify in dentistry would have taken an extra year. He was the oldest student in a class of just four. Graduating in 1943, he obtained professional qualification certificates from both the British Optical Association (BOA) and Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers (SMC) as was common at the time. 

He gained his first refraction experience with Bethell & Clark in Colchester. Then, from 1944-1952 he was a Lecturer in Clinical Practice at the West Ham College of Technology, leaving that role to develop his individual practice, that he had opened in the High Street, Brentwood, in 1947. He remained at the practice until 1988. He also attended to the optical needs of patients with mental health problems at the Warley Hospital and supplied theatrical contact lenses to early television broadcasts from Alexandra Palace.

In the late 1970s the SMC chose him as their nominee to the provisional council of the new British College of Ophthalmic Opticians (as it was originally named) and on its formation he was chosen as the first president because he was, in his own words, ‘the least awkward’. He remained on the Council of the new unified qualifying body until 1996, as well as Chairman of the Executive Committee until restructuring in 1993, and the (voluntary) professional adviser from 1984-1995. Appointed a Life Fellow of the College in 1996, he was co-author with the late Martin Lynch of the first volume of the College History, covering the years 1980-1998 and published as the College’s Millennium project in 1999. Since 2013 the College has named its Philip Cole Award for practice-based research after him.

In addition, Philip Cole was a council member of the Association of Optical Practitioners from 1960 until its change of name in 1987. He was a Life Member of the AOP, as well as a Member of the Court of the SMC and active in his local Scout movement. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Bradford University and appointed OBE in June 1987, always considering that he had accepted the latter honour on behalf of the whole profession. The medal is now preserved in the College Museum and his practice, now relocated, continues to bear the name of its three original partners, Cole Martin Tregaskis Optometrists. Something of an elder statesman for the profession, he remained sharp until the end and lived out an active retirement in the Essex countryside, employing a driver to ensure he enjoyed regular outings. On attaining his personal centenary last August, he received the customary card from the Queen, prompting the local Daily Gazette to declare that he had received ‘royal approval for the second time’. His wife and daughter predeceased him.