Happy Birthday Bob

It’s hard to believe it, but Professor Bob Fletcher is 90 years old. Indeed, given his ongoing research and publications in the field of colour vision - I suspect the man himself can’t quite believe it.

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Author: Neil Handley, Museum Curator
Date: 23 June 2015

It’s hard to believe it, but Professor Bob Fletcher is 90 years old. Indeed, given his ongoing research and publications in the field of colour vision (most recently in conjunction with Italian optometric colleagues) I suspect the man himself can’t quite believe it.

On Monday, the City University held a symposium to mark the event and his nearly 74 years of association with that institution as student, lecturer, Head of Department and Professor Emeritus. Some of his former pupils were present, including five from his first year as a lecturer in 1950. They themselves are aged 86, leading to that moment of surprise when alumni realise that some of their tutors were scarcely much older than they were. 

It was a real privilege to be present at the symposium on behalf of the College of Optometrists, together with two former College Presidents, Michael Port and Judith Morris, to mark the youthful-looking Professor Fletcher’s contribution not only to optometric teaching, but also the development of the profession. It is now some 48 years since he held the Presidency of our predecessor body, the British Optical Association. Whereas for some that might have been (and undoubtedly was) the pinnacle of a distinguished optometric career, for Bob it marked merely a mid-point on a journey that took him all over the world. As the symposium speakers made clear, responsibility for the establishment of formal optometry training in countries as diverse as Norway, Italy, France, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Malaysia can be placed, at least in part, at the feet of R. J. Fletcher.

The event felt like an international family gathering and not just the Malaysians (who traditionally use familial terms when addressing older people known to them) saw fit to describe him in public as ‘Uncle Bob’. Whether you call him that, ‘Professor Bob’ or even ‘President Bob’, there is no doubt that his name should go down in the history of the subject, as the first UK Professor of Ophthalmic Optics, as the first author of a book on careers in optics, as a pioneer in contact lens practice, as the inventor of the first programmable colour vision test...the list could go on. There are probably future achievements yet to add. As the Associate Professor at Hadassah University Jerusalem stood at the front and said ‘May you live to 120’.

Happy Birthday Bob.

Neil Handley MA AMA FRSA
Museum Curator, The College of Optometrists

Neil Handley is recognised as one the UK’s principal historians of spectacles, vision aids and opticians. He has been curator of the British Optical Association Museum at The College of Optometrists in London since 1998 and is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers.

The Curator is available for lectures and informal talks off-site as well as guided tours of the museum gallery and College Meeting Rooms. Considered to be an authority on ophthalmic history he can also advise on items on optical and optometric heritage including their identification and dating. He has been awarded the medal of the Ocular Heritage Society of America on several occasions.

Neil was awarded the Associateship of the Museums Association in 2002 and was one of the first 17 museum professionals in the country to gain the AMA+ qualification in May 2007. He now serves as a Museums Association Mentor for younger curators.

Neil was elected Chairman of the prestigious London Museums of Health and Medicine (2011-14), widely considered within the profession to be one of the most dynamic and go-ahead museum specialist networks. During this time he oversaw that organisation's first strategic review for fifteen years. He is also a past Vice Chairman of the Scientific Instrument Society and became a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (FRSA) in 2012.

Front cover of the book Cult Eyewear 2011

Neil  has published articles on spectacle frame design, the history of opticians, artificial eyes and facial prosthetics. He has contributed to a number of books on the history of the subject, including a chapter on artificial eyes for the book Devices and Designs (2006) and the major German publication Treasury of Optics (2012). He spent much of 2009 and 2010 writing a book on Cult Eyewear, the first serious analytical study of the historical development of branded fashion spectacle frames, published by Merrell on 27 September 2011. He also co-authored, with David Cartwright, the second volume of the College History, The College of Optometrists: A History 1998-2015, published in October 2015. He has also written articles for journals as diverse as Optometry in Practice, Contact Lens and Anterior Eye, Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, From the Master and Wardens (newsletter of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers), Ophthalmic Antiques, Gewina (Dutch Journal for the History of Science), Antiquarian Horology and Pharmaceutical Historian.

Contact the Curator by email

Or follow him on Twitter @neilhandleyuk

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