- A Link with Our Past: An Interview with A. Edward Maumenee, M.D.
A. Edward Maumenee wanted to become the best ophthalmologist in the world, he said when he was a resident in 1939, and he certainly became one of the most renowned. Director of the Wilmer Institute of the Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1955 to 1979, he was able to select, train, and inspire outstanding residents and fellows—many of whom made careers in academic ophthalmology, became heads of academic departments themselves, and maintain a high regard for him. He made significant contributions to the understanding and treatment of eye disease and was instrumental in the birth of the National Eye Institute of the NIH. He played on a world stage, with leadership roles in almost all the national and international groups of organized ophthalmology.
This volume is the eighth in a series of oral biographies sponsored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology and meant to preserve the memories of some of its most distinguished members before the colors fade. These men, largely trained before the Second World War, represent the last generation of generalists, from the period when it was still a reasonable ideal for a gifted ophthalmologist to be accepted as an authority in more than one subspecialty.
The great advantage of the oral biography format is its immediacy and informality. The reader is effectively there in the room across the cocktail table from the distinguished subject, hearing him reminisce about his career and the changes he has seen. The interviewer, Sally Hughes, is a professional historian, knowledgeable about the personalities of the era, and invariably tactful and polite, so the interviews have all the constraints of a social occasion. How revealing, in fact, are they? Do not look here for a well-rounded consideration of the science involved. Do not hunt here for the skeletons in the closet.
On the other hand, for the reader who has enough familiarity with the subject and his environment to read between the lines, there are anecdotes that give insights not obtainable elsewhere. It is unlikely, for instance, that any institutional history will ever give the pointed views that Maumenee provides on the splitting off of eye disease from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness with the formation of the National Eye Institute, multiplying many times the funds available for blindness research.
As source material, undocumented oral history is limited in scope and occasionally in accuracy. What it does provide unequivocally is what the distinguished subject himself remembers at the end of a distinguished career, together with a clear demonstration, for anyone who had doubts about it, that medicine is an intensely human enterprise.