Dedicated to our American friends of the Verhoeff Society
on the occasion of the Joint Meeting, Houston 1996
The major part of the synopsis relating to the formation of the Society relies exclusively on specially prepared personal accounts by two of its three initiators, Norman Ashton and Ry Andersen. As in the beginning, so now, their input has been fundamental. We are ever in their debt. Other contributions have relied on minutes of the business meetings and individual recollections.
"I have just returned from America and was most impressed by their Ophthalmic Pathology Club, which has a restricted membership of 30 and meets once a year. It has no officers, no finances and no publications, the whole idea being that each member brings his most interesting case of the year to show the others. I thought that you and I might establish a similar European Eye Pathology Club ...
... Let me know your thoughts on this."
The occasion to which he referred was when, during a period as Visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he was invited to be the Guest of Honour at a meeting of the Ophthalmic Pathology Club inaugurated by Dr. Verhoeff but only later dignified by his name. That was on March l7th and l8th, 1959, in Washington. Norman was profoundly impressed by the excellence of the presentations, the high level of discussion and the friendly and relaxed atmosphere in which the meeting was conducted. He also perceived that by having leaders of high calibre, standards were set which acted as a challenge to less experienced members. Because membership was fixed and limited, election was a highly rated honour enhancing the reputation of both the individual and the subject. That, he decided, was exactly what was required in Europe, where there was no organisation whatsoever in the developing discipline of ophthalmic pathology.
Within days Willem Manschot replied with an enthusiasm typical of him in support of the proposal, concluding:
"I willingly place my humble vigours to your disposal in order to achieve this excellent purpose as soon as possible."
The next step was to contact potential members, given that both Norman and Willem were initially considering a membership of 20-30. One of the more difficult tasks was to identify those who might qualify, since ophthalmic pathology was not really recognised as a distinct discipline in Europe and its practitioners had rarely had a formal training in the subject. (Even Britain, whose Institute of Ophthalmology in London Ry Andersen of Denmark termed the "European Mecca of eye pathology", had only the single centre). It took over two years to draw up a list of suitable candidates.
A key figure in these preparatory stages was Sigurd Ry Andersen who, like Norman Ashton, had been a guest of the American Ophthalmic Pathology Club in 1951 and had been similarly inspired. On his way back to Copenhagen he broke his journey in London and, on discovering that the idea of creating a European counterpart had already been mooted, immediately offered his full support. Thus came into being the triumvirate that would give substance to the concept.
Apart from determining who might be invited to join the club, there was, in view of the polyglot character of the prospective membership, a language problem. Willem Manschot indicated that the proceedings should be conducted in English and that a degree of competence in English should be a condition of membership. Alfred Brini of Strasbourg, another of the early enthusiasts to whom Norman Ashton had written very soon after receiving Willem's support, repeated the sentiment of his chief, Professor Nordmann, that all non-English speaking people eventually get on very well on the basis of "broken English", terming it the new esperanto. And so it was resolved.
Protocol had to be observed and, when in April, l961, Norman felt that the time was ripe to make finite arrangements for an inaugural meeting, he formally invited Dr. Manschot to join the Club while expressing the hope that Willem would in due course invite him! Willem went one better and indicated that Norman should be the first president with a tenure of at least 20 years! Invitations to a meeting to be held in London in 1962 were sent to prospective members in May, 1961, together with details of what would be expected of them:
Business meetings can be tiresome but are a necessary evil, none more so than the first which had to lay plans for future meetings of the Club. Indeed, should the organisation be termed a club? The first resolution of the "Club" was to change the name to the "European Ophthalmic Pathology Society", the former title being considered unsuitable for a learned society. (Interestingly, the American "Club" soon followed the EOPS and renamed themselves "The Verhoeff Society": inspiration could travel from east to west as well as vice versa!). The 31 individuals who had indicated their wish to join the Society were duly elected as Founder Members and it was agreed that the total membership should not exceed 35. The need of a written constitution was recognised and to that end a Steering Committee, composed of the three instigators of the Society (Ashton, Manschot and Andersen), was appointed and a decision concerning the election of officers was deferred pending receipt and confirmation of the constitution. It was resolved to meet once a year and Ry Andersen invited the Society to Copenhagen for the next year, whilst Rudolf Gittler offered to host the 1964 meeting in Vienna. Both invitations were accepted with enthusiasm.
After the meeting, Norman Ashton wrote to Algernon Reese in New York to tell him that "the American Club had had a happy event" whereupon the latter cabled back:
"I am elated to hear of the birth of the European Ophthalmic Pathology Club. The array of members is most impressive both from the standpoint of personnel as well as scope. As ten countries are represented, I thought it was very appropriate that the last name on your list was "Babel"."
Another decision of the business meeting was to send a set of slides from each meeting to the American Club, Ry Andersen having previously suggested to Michael Hogan that perhaps they might like to let the European Club have slides from their meetings. (This annual exchange has helped to ensure that the umbilical cord has never been severed.)
A feature of the EOPS meetings initiated in Copenhagen that has been of major importance in bonding the members in a true society has been the social programme. Even that might not have won the desired outcome had it not been for the presence of spouses and other personal guests. In those sexist early days, when pathology was mostly a male pursuit, the informal conversation initiated by the ladies did far more to overcome national suspicions, even resentments, than did the more formal deliberations of the elected members in their scientific sessions.
The next few years saw a gradual but steady improvement in the level of presentation. Language differences, however, continued to be a problem when it came to discussion, it having been agreed that while English was mandatory for case presentation discussion could be conducted in the participant's preferred language. It must have been an especial headache for the gallant translators when they had to contend with a 10-15 minute discussion contribution from Professor Mawas, whose enthusiasm was unlimited, especially if the subject was retinoblastoma. It could be amusing though. At the end of one particularly trying session (from a linguistic paint of view) the gallant chairman announced that we would have a "breakdown for coffee"! - a Freudian slip?
It had been expected that members would dress formally (tuxedos) at the official dinner but at a subsequent business meeting the members resolved to discontinue this practise, which occasioned a minute indicating that, while this was the wish of the majority, "some gentlemen" demurred! (Checking the minute reveals a hand-written emendation so that the signed minute is rather more precise, reading: "...to the great regret of the two gentlemen present...". Norman and Willem may know who the two were!
Some meetings were not without excitement. As when the members and their guests at the Barcelona meeting in 1965 were returning from a visit to Montserrat where they had been liberally wined and dined by Professor José Casanovas, the then President. They had to cope with a hair-raising ride in the dark around hair-pin bends high up in the mountains and, by all accounts, several lives were substantially shortened that night! The 1968 meeting in Paris had to contend with a student uprising at the Sorbonne so that the walk (there were no taxis!) to the restaurant for the official dinner on the Champs Elysees was lined by policemen in riot gear. Departure after the meeting was a nightmare because the airports and railways were on strike.
The previous year had been distinguished by the attendance of ten members at the Verhoeff Society's 20th anniversary meeting and this whetted the appetites of both for further contact.
Equally successful were combined meetings in 1981, organised by Jean Babel in Geneva, and in 1986 in Philadelphia at the invitation of Myron Yanoff. At the 1981 meeting the VS presented the EOPS with a leather-bound book in which to record events of interest, the intention being that it should revert to the VS in 1986 for it to do likewise. By repeating the exercise every five years the already strong link between the two societies would be further consolidated.
By the time we came to our fifth combined meeting in 1991, masterminded by our then President, Gottfried (Fritz) Naumann, in Nuremberg-Erlangen, the membership of EOPS had changed radically from that elected in 1962. There are now just two surviving Founder Members if we exclude our Honorary Life President and those with emeritus status: Ahti Tarkkanen and our current President, Michel Hanssens. But turnover is vital if stagnation is to be avoided and the Society can look forward with eager anticipation to the contribution that the new members with fresh approaches can make to our discipline. At only the second business meeting there was a move to adopt the name European Ophthalmic Histopathology Society because that reflected the overriding activity of the members. Wisely, the proposal was rejected and as we approach the millennium, the wisdom is even more apparent, allowing newer laboratory-based approaches to the study of ocular pathology to supplement the time-honoured histological skills.
Dare we suggest that you, as members of the Verhoeff Society, that you can take pride in your followers? If so, that would be the highest accolade to which the members of the European Ophthalmic Pathology Society could aspire.
Alec Garner, M.D.