Vale Professor Barry Cole

This blog is about a great man who left us recently.  It is about a great man who was without a doubt the most important and significant person in the development of optometry as a profession over the last 60 years.  It is about a great man who always inspired me and undoubtedly had the biggest influence on my career.


In late January Professor Barry Cole passed away at the age of 86 after a short illness.  Professor Cole was Foundation Professor in the Department of Optometry at the University of Melbourne for over 25 years.  He was also Director of the Australian (formerly Victorian) College of Optometry for 34 years.  Professor Cole spent 40 years teaching optometry and shaping generations of practitioners and apart from his defining influence on the development of optometric education and research, his vision of what optometry should be helped elevate the profession to its current status.  It has been noted that Professor Cole’s influence on optometry was widespread, both in Australia and overseas, and to highlight this Professor Nathan Efron – a close friend and former student of Professor Cole – remarked in his eulogy at the funeral service that there were currently 25 professors around the world involved in optometric and scientific research who had been taught by Professor Cole.


Professor Cole was the Head of the Department of Optometry when I obtained my Optometry Degree from the University of Melbourne in the early 1980s.  In addition to being both a truly inspirational and engaging teacher, Professor Cole strongly shaped my professional values in regard to how one should practice as an optometrist.  After graduating I then worked under Professor Cole at the Australian College of Optometry (ACO) where I ended up being Head of Contact Lens Clinics for my last 9 years.  The support and encouragement I received from Professor Cole during this time was truly amazing.  Thanks to him I was heavily involved in the teaching program in the Optometry course, and he also inspired me to undertake research and take part in the provision of continuing education to optometrists both locally and overseas.


After I left the ACO in 1998 to establish my private practice, I maintained a very close working relationship with Professor Cole and a friendship that was only once strained slightly when his beloved Cats beat my Saints in the 2009 grand final.  In his retirement Professor Cole served as Chair of the Editorial Board of the Optometry Australia journal Clinical and Experimental Optometry.  It was my pleasure, as a member of the Editorial Board of the journal, to work with Professor Cole for over 10 years and during this time – thanks in no small part to his brilliant efforts – it was wonderful to witness the rise of this journal to even higher prominence.


For his contributions to academia and distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or to humanity at large, Professor Cole was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1987.  He is owed a great debt, not only by me, but also by thousands of optometrists as well as the population at large who have no doubt benefited from the existence of a higher standard of eye care.  He will be sorely missed.