A tribute to Roger Buckley, by Professor David Gartry

  • 17 Nov 2022
  • RCOphth

Roger Buckley was a truly eminent and highly respected ophthalmologist, and I am most grateful to Lesley and the family for asking me to take part in the celebration of a life well-lived – and more specifically to pay tribute to the many contributions he made in his professional life.

After qualifying as a doctor from Oxford University and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Roger’s first ophthalmology appointment was as House Surgeon to John Winstanley and Sir Harold Ridley at St Thomas’.  He was appointed as a registrar to what was termed “The Lower House” at Moorfields in 1975 and then to the consultant staff in 1981.  Since he had a specialist interest in ocular allergy, he was made Director of the Vernal Clinic and at around the same time he helped to investigate and evaluate corneal endothelial specular photomicroscopy at Moorfields working with colleagues, Emil Sherrard and Malcolm Kerr Muir. This invaluable new imaging method was used not only in Moorfields, but also by numerous referring eye departments around the country.

In 1983, only two years after his consultant appointment at Moorfields, he became Director of the Contact Lens and Prosthetic Department.  This department was ground-breaking at the time in dealing with medical indications for contact lens wear and Roger was ably assisted by several distinguished optometrists and ophthalmologists – Dr Geoff Woodward, Dr Lali Moodaley, Alison Dart, Dan Ehrlich, and Ken Pullum among others.  Ken is here with us today and is now a world authority on specialist scleral contact lens fitting.

Roger was also one of the first ophthalmologists to encourage optometrists to work in his Moorfields’ clinic and this is now, I am very pleased to say, commonplace.

In 1997 he was appointed the Bausch + Lomb Professor of Ocular Medicine at City University – the first ever chair of its kind within an optometry department.  He managed to balance his roles in teaching and research at City with his NHS work at Moorfields and his private practice in Wimpole Street.  When he retired from Moorfields in 2004, he moved to Cambridge where he transferred his chair to Anglia Ruskin University and at the same time worked as an Honorary Consultant at Addenbrooke’s Hospital – working with his former Moorfields’ colleague, Malcolm Kerr Muir.

Roger also made many important contributions as President of the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA), the Medical Contact Lens and Ocular Surface Association (MCLOSA) and by advising on sub-committees of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the General Optical Council.  In fact, he worked for the GOC for 20 years and was the Founding Chairman of their Standards Committee.  His interest in the ocular surface and infection also proved to be very important since he led on the development of protocols for the sterilisation of contact lenses for use in practice because of the problems linked to the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob virus in the late 90s.   He also played a leading role in setting up the “Clinical Medical Guidelines” – or CMGs – in the early 2000s and this ultimately led to independent prescribing for optometrists in 2008.  He then continued to work closely with the College of Optometrists to keep these guidelines up to date.

Because of this and other contributions, Roger was made an honorary fellow of the College of Optometrists in 2002 and of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists in 2021.   He published over 100 peer-reviewed papers, 16 book chapters, and sat on numerous editorial boards providing a vital role in reviewing scientific papers.

As you can tell, Roger had a big impact in his career, but in particular he, more than anyone else I know, promoted professional working relationships between ophthalmologists, optometrists, opticians and contact lens practitioners.  He was at the forefront of “multi-disciplinary teams” or MDTs long before the term had ever been thought of.

On a personal note, I first met Roger in 1978 when I was a pre-registered optometrist in Janet Silver’s Refraction Department at Moorfields.  He gave a series of excellent tutorials on contact lenses, allergy, infection and external eye disease.  He then became a valued senior colleague and a friend when I was appointed myself to the Moorfields consultant staff many years later in 1995.  He was always willing to give helpful advice with difficult cases and his generosity of spirit also extended to asking me to join him in his Oculus Clinic in Wimpole Street – a half-day a week – to help kick start my private practice.  Interestingly, when working there I noticed that he had a framed letter on the mantlepiece in his consulting room from no other than the famous composer Frederick Delius!  I have to add that it was not addressed to Roger personally!  I was of course well aware of Roger’s interest in music, which will certainly figure prominently in this celebration service.

The last time my wife, Lily, and I met Roger and Lesley was when they had kindly invited us, along with Arthur Steele and Morgan Doyle, to an excellent Sunday lunch in Cambridge and that very week Roger was celebrating being awarded a PhD in Music for an in-depth work on the above-mentioned Frederick Delius.

Finally, I would like to finish with one apocryphal Moorfields story.  A junior colleague, who was assisting Roger with a corneal transplant, had asked Roger (possibly in the slightly sycophantic manner most junior surgeons seem to adopt) “Professor Buckley how do you get such good results with your corneal transplants?”  Roger’s answer was perhaps predictable: “Well, firstly never forget that it’s not a race” and secondly, “by just taking great care”.  I think we all know that Roger did not just take great care with his surgery, but was a very caring doctor, teacher and indeed a very caring human being – and dare I say it these days, a true gentleman.  Arthur Steele told me once that to succeed in the higher echelons of surgical and medical practice we had to go beyond the normal service workload, and there was no doubt that Professor Roger Buckley certainly did just that and much more.  Of course, our thoughts, sympathies and condolences are with Roger’s family, but they can be assured that he made a huge contribution in a life well-lived.