Bruce E. Spivey— The candle that lights other candles

This is a special week for me. Why? Four great friends of mine are celebrating their birthday. The youngest of them, Augustine Akpeji, as I put pen to paper writing this piece (August 27), is 22. Coincidentally, one of my grandchildren shares the same birthday with him!

Augustine is a student of Mass Communication at the Dominican University, Ibadan. He is blind – not just blind, he has no eyes at all. They were removed to save his life when he was four years old. With no eyes but great vision, he is making waves at the Dominican University, where his professors call him “Professor.” Why? He gets all their marks and on his way to a first class honours degree.

As I say “Happy Birthday” to Austin, I seize this opportunity to thank all those who have been supporting him, especially my special friend, “BS” who shares the first and last initials with one of the celebrators. He would like to remain anonymous.

On Saturday, August 31, an ophthalmologist who left the comfort of the bustling city of New York and relocated to a remote area of Ghana is celebrating her birthday. Judith Simon left all to provide eye care for the hapless people of Northern Ghana. She has been simply marvellous. Happy birthday, Judith!

Today, Thursday 29th, Dr. Andries Stulting, a good friend of Nigerian Ophthalmology who has visited us several times to impart knowledge and skills is also celebrating his 71st birthday in faraway South Africa. Celebrating with him in San Francisco is the other “BS”.

Dr. Bruce Spivey, an emeritus professor of ophthalmology who has devoted his entire life to the improvement of training and practice of ophthalmology and eye care all over the world and can be appropriately described as the Doyen of World Ophthalmology, is 85 today!

I was in San Francisco on June 15 when he was honoured and the whole of San Francisco stood up for him. I was privileged to be one of the four chosen to speak about him.

“What can I say about this remarkable man? What greater testimony can I render that is not known to you? Your decision to honour him and your presence here today are the most powerful, yet unspoken, attestation to the greatness of this man – Dr Bruce Eldon Spivey – a legend.

Bruce E. Spivey is a man of great distinction; an honourable man whose actions actually say more than words ever will. A man with boundless energy, who in the words of Albert Einstein, is a ‘Man of Value’ – having added value to many lives. Everything he touched, always a product of deep thought and well laid out plans, was successful. Isn’t that what is called the Midas touch?

“Bruce started a revolution in eye care all over the world. He took special interest in Africa and in particular, Nigeria. The revolution has continued to gather momentum. Thousands of eyes, blind from cataract, have had vision restored and millions have been prevented from going blind. How can one man do all these things, you may ask?

“Bruce has the unique ability to bring people together, stimulate them, focus them, get them to work together and get them to perform,” said Robert Rich, MD, Shelley and Steven Einhorn Distinguished Chair, Professor of Ophthalmology, at his 80th birthday.

And Richard Abbott MD, a past president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology said, on the same occasion, “It is a testament to his inspiring leadership and guidance that our residency programme ‘produced’ three Academy Presidents (Susan Day, Ruth Williams and myself).” I know them – great leaders too! A demonstration that a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.

“Professor Hannah Faal, a Nigerian and past president of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), said of Bruce, “With masterful dexterity, he led the International Council of Ophthalmology (ICO) to another level, to become a developmental organisation; a professional development body with a structure to empower it and allow it to achieve….

Bruce remained human, approachable, not waiting for us to come to him but he came to us, at all levels and in all places…. “Others will list the actual, I will remember the humanity which engendered his achievements.”

Kgao Legodi, the then president of the Ophthalmological Society of South Africa, harped more on his humanity when he said, “Bruce, you are not just a leader, but a father figure at the same time.”

Daniel Etya’ale (WHO) further added the voice of Africa when he said, “Bruce lit a spark that started a fire going, bright enough to put sub-Saharan African ophthalmology on the world map.” Very true indeed! Ophthalmology made a giant leap forwards during Bruce’s tenure as the president of ICO.

He supported the Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria Strategic Plan, ‘Vision for the Future Nigeria’ and was present at its launch. He gave tremendous encouragement by his inspiring words, action and mobilisation of financial support for programmes in Nigeria and other sub-Saharan countries.

Kgao Legodi said unequivocally, “I want to specifically mention to you that without you, Ophthalmology in Africa would not be known to the world and Africa would not be exposed to this extent to Global Ophthalmology.

Archbishop Felix Alaba Job, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Ibadan, at the opening ceremony of Akef Maghraby Eye Clinic, Eruwa, Nigeria (a rural annex of Eleta Eye Institute, Ibadan) in 2008 summed it all up when he said of Dr. Spivey and his ICO team, “Who would not be inspired by the beautiful things said about these great and selfless people?”

I have personally learnt several lessons from him. He demonstrated to me the true meaning of simplicity, diligence, perseverance, altruism, commitment, humility, compassion and love and believing in oneself.

Jane Aguirre, who worked with him for several years at the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) office, summed it all up in one sentence: “In spite of all the accolades and recognition Bruce has received from around the world, he does not have an inflated ego.”

No one remembers anyone for the palaces they have built or for the huge size of their bank account but for what they have done for the ordinary people with their God-given TIME, TALENTS and TREASURE. Happy Birthday, Bruce, and many happy returns in good health of the body and mind.

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