Past Leaders

A Walk Down Memory Lane

with Chestor C. Pryor, II, MD

"We Stand on Their Shoulders"

HOWARD P. VENABLE, M.D. Had to go to Switzerland to obtain training in Ophthalmology. He established the Residency Program at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, one of two places where African –Americans could train in Ophthalmology before 1950. Axel Hanson and Robert E. Dawson among numerous others he trained. 

CLAUDE L. COWAN, SR, M.D. struggled to obtain Board qualifying Ophthalmic training. He headed the Section of Ophthalmology at Howard University College of Medicine for several decades.

AXEL C HANSEN, M.D. The Meharry Medical College’s motivating Teacher's Teacher, published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, an authentic writer. Obtained the top score on the 1948 written ophthalmic Board Exam.

ROBERT E. DAWSON, M.D. opened the professional door of Durham, N.C and the Department of Ophthalmology, Duke University College of Medicine, the first African American Ophthalmologist in NC to become board certified. When Honored by “The City of Medicine” October 10, 2002.  His resume caused tears to flow from numerous Noted Clinicians and Civic Leaders. Dawson was one of my life time mentors.

FRED C. WILLIAMS, M.D. Established the Professional Image of The Negro in Ophthalmology at UCSF Medical Center as the first African American Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology and in the Armed Forces as Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Residency Program at Letterman General Army Hospital.

They are my Ophthalmic Parents  

MAURICE RABB, M.D. His Humble Self. Dedicated to our NMA Ophthalmic Section and the perseverance of the National Medical Association. A subspecialist in External Disease and Diseases of the Retina; Lead Author of the highly respected Text on Fluorescein Angiography. The Chancellor of the University of Illinois.  Loyal servant to humanity.

ELSON CRAIG, M.D. Both undergraduate and medical degrees from The Ohio State University, Became the Ophthalmic Pathologist (40 years plus) at The Ohio State Department of Ophthalmology, Minority Assistant Dean and Mentor to our students; one of the first if not the first Electron Bio-microscopist in the country. He persuaded Thomas Richardson to be an ophthalmologist instead of a Cardiologist, The Mentor of many African –American Glaucoma specialists. He is a Co-author of an Ophthalmic Pharmacology book.

                     -Chester C. Pryor, II, M.D., FA.C.S., HUMed 1955 




August 7, 1932 -  June 8, 2005
Born:  Shelbyville, KY
Academic Appointment: Professor of Ophthalmology
     University of Illinois, Chicago, IL
Education: BS & MD: University of Louisville
Ophthalmology Residency: University of Illinois at Chicago
Children: Maurice III & Christopher
Wife: Madeline Murphy Rabb

Maurice F Rabb  Maurice F. Rabb 3

DR. MAURICE F RABB, JR, internationally recognized for his work in cornea and retina, completed his ophthalmology residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  He was the first black chief resident at UIC in 1963 and remained on staff for 43 years. He has a long list of publications and professional accomplishments, among which were authorship of the definitive textbook, Macular Disease, and establishing UIC’s Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center in 1972.  He was also a dedicated member of the NMA. The only meeting he missed in 35 years was the Las Vegas meeting in 1999.

Dr. Rabb distinguished himself as an academician and administrator. He became a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Illinois, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at St. Luke’s Hospital, and Chancellor of the University of Illinois. He served as an Examiner for the American Board of Ophthalmology was on the Council for the National Eye Institute.

Dr. Rabb was a movie aficionado with an extensive knowledge of motion picture history and actors. One of his favorite pastimes was watching movies with his family. He also loved electronics and attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas every year.

~  ~  ~

He was so proud of the accomplishments of the Section of Ophthalmology. He loved going to the annual meetings. It gave him so much pleasure to see the section grow and the numbers of Ophthalmologists who in were doing such important work, as well as seeing those who were leaders in the academic arena. I think that it was why he was so happy about the creation of the Rabb-Venable Scholarship program.  Maurice encouraged and influenced so many young ophthalmologists to do research and have the highest standards of scholarship. And he also believed that there are so few opportunities to celebrate, nurture and support young African American ophthalmologists in their pursuit of research and teaching.  Our family is so appreciative that the Scholarship was created in his name. It means that his high standards, values and legacy will live on.” 

Warmly, Madeline Murphy Rabb 


“Dr. Rabb’s benevolence and integrity, his brilliance and his vision, contributed to the betterment of countless individuals and organizations during his lifetime, and continue to guide us to this day.”

Chester C Pryor,  MD 





1913 – 1998
Born:  Windsor, Ontario
Academic Appointment:  Assistant Professor Emeritus of Clinical Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
    Washington University, St. Louis, MO
Education: BS & MD degrees from Wayne State University
Children: Louise M Venable Gregory, Allen P Venable
Wife:  Katie

Howard P. Venable 2  Howard P. Venable 3

  DR. HOWARD P VENABLE was the first African American to join the faculty of Washington University in 1958. Throughout his career he worked to recruit African Americans to the field of ophthalmology. To this end, he and his wife established the Katie and Howard Phillip Venable Student Research fund in Ophthalmology at Washington University, which provided stipends for summer research. He and his wife also supplied students with many of the necessities needed to complete the program, including housing and microscopes. Dr. Venable retired from the medical school in 1987.

As Head of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Homer G Phillips Hospital in St. Louis (now closed) from 1943 – 1979, Dr. Venable trained over 40 African American ophthalmologists. Dr. Robert Dawson, while a resident, remembers the day when Dr. Venable came into the clinic and announced that not only had he passed his boards in Ophthalmology but had received the highest marks made in years and had become the 5th black man to accomplish such a feat. . Dawson remembers his commitment to training. As a resident he had complained of the lack of formal lectures and training, so Dr. Venable took it upon himself to train these African American students so that they could surprise everyone by their knowledge, training and commitment to excellence.  Walking down the hallways of Homer G Phillips hospital, where at the time there had only been one head of a department who was African American, the question was “Have you passed your boards yet?”

Dr. Venable was aggressive in pursuing integration in the city and had challenged the Mayor to give him land to build a hospital, but when he finally obtained the lot, a plumbing permit was refused and he ended up building in an adjacent town. 

Dr. Venable was among the founders of the Roman Barnes Society, named after the first African American Ophthalmologist and the first board certified Otolaryngologist.  It was a social evening for academic training institutions as part of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology during the annual meeting.  Since African American’s were not graduates of segregated, majority institutions they essentially missed the social events, so the society was created to allow for anyone anywhere in the world to join.

In 1994, Dr. Venable was awarded the Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He was also a talented trumpeter and played professionally for 25 years.





Professor & Chair Emeritus
Department of Ophthalmology, Meharry Medical College
Inaugural President, Meharry Faculty Senate
Charter Member, Association of University Professors in Ophthalmology
Founder, Medical Society of the Virgin Islands
First African American President, Nashville Academy of Ophthalmology

AXEL CARL HANSEN was born March 4, 1919 and attended public high school on the island of St. Thomas, USVI. He attended Fisk University and received his MD degree from Meharry Medical College in 1944.

He pursued an internship and general practice residency training in Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri and later received training in Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

Following residency Dr. Hansen returned to Meharry Medical College where he began a long distinguished academic career later serving as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology for 25 years.

A true trailblazer, Dr. Hansen’s life and career were marked by many firsts. Along with Dr. Claude L. Cowan Sr., he was one of two African American  Ophthalmology Department  Chairs who were charter  members of the American Association of University Professors in Ophthalmology. He was the founder and first Secretary of the Medical Society of the Virgin Islands, and a founding member of the Roman Barnes Ophthalmology Society. He served as the first African American President of the Nashville Academy of Ophthalmology, and Vice President and Co-founder of the Tennessee Society to Prevent Blindness. He was also the first president of the Meharry Faculty Senate and among his many scholarly achievements published the first two cases of Norrie’s disease in the United States.

Among his numerous honors and citations he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from his alma mater Fisk University, and the Outstanding Humanitarian Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He was also recognized for his life’s work in the rare honor of a citation from the U.S. Congress in 2006.

A true Renaissance man, Dr. Hansen was an accomplished artist and writer and remained active in many philanthropic endeavors until his passing in 2008. His legacy of great achievement, generosity, personal sacrifice and humility remains alive as an inspiration for us today and generations to come.

It has been said of Dr. Hansen that he was a mentor, teacher, scientist, philanthropist, friend and trusted colleague. Truly, Dr. Hansen has left a legacy to which many may wish to aspire. His support of his patients and colleagues alike are legendary and will live in perpetuity.





ROGER PHILLIP MASON, SR., MD, the son of Frank B. and Lula J. Mason, was born in Chicago, Illinois, December 3, 1955.  He departed this life at the Washington Hospital Center, Washington, D.C., on Saturday, March 30, 1991.

 His early life was spent in Tucson, Arizona and Queens, New York, where he attended the Public Schools.  It was during these formative years that Roger’s interest in medicine was stimulated.

 Roger pursued his pre-medical studies at Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama and Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, where he was a chemistry major.  At the completion of his sophomore year in undergraduate studies, Roger was offered early acceptance to Howard University College of Medicine.  It was during his medical school years that he developed an interest in ophthalmology.  After graduating from Howard, and completing a medicine internship at Harlem Hospital Center in New York City, his dream of becoming an ophthalmologist was completed at Howard University Hospital, Washington, D.C.  To complete his medical education, Roger spent a year of subspecialty training in glaucoma at the Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

 As an educator and physician, Roger was an Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and the Director of the Glaucoma Service at Howard University Hospital.  To better understand the high incidence of glaucoma in blacks, Roger directed a study in St. Lucia, West Indies, which investigated the prevalence and risk factors for glaucoma in that island’s predominantly black population.

 Roger’s life was a life of giving, caring and love.  He was continuously involved in a variety of civic activities and was the recipient of numerous awards and citations for his service to the community.  Roger served on the Board of Directors of the Lincoln Theatre Foundation and was a member of Rhema Christian Center.

 The most important elements of Roger’s life were his strong and unbridled love for Jesus Christ, his loving and caring wife, his four children and his family.  Roger’s credo was to love without ceasing, and to forgive and forbear.

 He leaves to cherish his memory, a devoted wife, Marsha; his four children, Roger P. Jr., Adrienne M., Warren Frank H., and Lauren R., of Silver Spring, Maryland; his loving parents Frank B. and Lula J. Mason, a sister, Lydia M. Mason and a brother, Frederick E. Mason, of New York City; in-laws Alexander and Codessa Arrington of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a host of other relatives and friends.




These early pioneers in Ophthalmology opened the doors and paved the way for many to follow in their footsteps. The countless barriers confronted and conquered by these visionaries and stalwarts are today reflected in the lives of many. We now cherish their memories as their accomplishments are documented and carried on in the lives of immeasurable African American physicians, Residents and students in medicine today. For this we honor, respect and pay tribute to them for all that they have accomplished, shared and passed on in eternity.

  CHARLES VICTOR ROMAN, MD, the first African American physician to receive training in both ophthalmology and otolaryngology (1864-1934). Dr. Roman was the first African American student to graduate from the Hamilton Collegiate Institute in Ontario, Canada. He distinguished himself by completing a four-year program of academic studies in just two years. Dr. Roman was a legend at Fisk University. In 1887 he enrolled as a medical student at the Meharry College of Medicine and graduated in 1890. Dr. Roman continued his training at the Chicago Medical School, the Royal Ophthalmic Hospital, and the Central London Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital. He founded the first Department of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at the Meharry Medical College. Among his many achievements, Dr. Roman was one of the founders of the National Medical Association and served as its 5th President (1904-1905) and was the first editor of the Journal of the National Medical Association. Dr. Roman led a brilliant career as a physician, scholar, churchman, writer, civic leader, teacher, historian, philosopher.

  WILLIAM HARRY BARNES, MD was born in 1887 to poor parents and worked to receive his education. He took a competitive exam for admittance to the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and did so well that he was granted a scholarship to attend the school and was awarded a medical degree in 1912. He was appointed Assistant Otolaryngologist at the Philadelphia Mercy Douglas Hospital. In 1918 he was appointed Acting Assistant Surgeon for the U.S. Public Service. In 1921 he began his residency at the University of Pennsylvania and during that same year, he was named Chief Otolaryngolist at Frederick Douglas Hospital. In 1924 he traveled to France for advanced training at the University of Paris and the University of Bordeaux. Under the mentorship of Dr. Chevalier Jackson, he became the first African American to master the technique of bronchoesophagology and subsequently was the first African American tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The National Medical Association was fortunate to have Dr. Barnes serve as the 37th President. During his long career he developed a hypophyscope and distinguished himself as a practitioner, scientist and healer. He enjoyed an active role as a renowned citizen of the civic and medical communities.



December 13, 1955 to April 11, 2016    

Dr. Copeland was widely admired as an advocate for the prevention of eye disease, a mentor to countless students and an expert and attentive physician. Robert A. Copeland, Jr., was born on Dec. 13, 1955, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His interest in the condition of the eye arose during his first week as a Fisk University undergraduate in 1973. Playing football, Copeland was injured and had to be treated for blunt trauma to the right eye at Meharry Medical College. After completing his studies at Fisk, Copeland earned a medical degree in 1981 from Temple University School of Medicine.  

Dr. Copeland contributed more than three decades of service to Howard University. In 1982, he arrived at Howard University Hospital as a young ophthalmology resident. Four years later, he joined the Howard University Department of Surgery, Division of Ophthalmology, as an instructor. He was elevated to assistant professor in 1988 and to full professor in 2010. He served as interim chief of the division from 1993 until his campaign to make ophthalmology a stand-alone department was successful in 2000. He was named chair in the document ratifying creation of the Department of Ophthalmology by the Howard University Board of Trustees.

Dr. Copeland has written multiple papers on corneal and external diseases, uveitis, and other diseases of the eye. His research focused on conditions affecting the eye, as well as the socioeconomic and gender disparities in cataract surgery, including factors such as insurance coverage, transportation, and other barriers to access. 

In 2012, Dr. Copeland published Copeland and Afshari's Principles and Practice of Cornea, a definitive textbook on the cornea, in conjunction with a Duke University professor. The two-volume work is made up of over 1,500 pages, includes 119 chapters and weighs over 14 pounds.

Robert A. Copeland Jr., MD was the Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at Howard University Hospital and Professor in the College of Medicine at Howard University.  He started his postgraduate training with an internal medicine internship at Middlesex General Hospital, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and then completed a three year ophthalmology residency at Howard University Hospital. Dr. Copeland completed fellowships at Kresge Eye Institute, Wayne State University Medical School and Michigan Eye Bank Transplantation Center in Corneal External Diseases and Eye Banking, and Francis I. Proctor Foundation, University California San Francisco Medical School in Immunology and Uveitas.

Dr. Copeland was on the board of trustees for the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington, the board of governors for the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP), American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) OPHTHPAC committee, and also a member of the National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP) committee.  He was also a Section Chair on the Advisory Board of International Healthcare Services at Howard University Hospital and moderator of the National Medical Association (NMA) ophthalmology Corneal and External Disease section.  Dr. Copeland was a Diplomat of the American Board of Ophthalmology, an editorial advisor for the AAO Eye Net Magazine, editor for Advances in Ophthalmology & Visual System and has written extensively on corneal external diseases and other diseases of the eye for numerous publications and recently co-edited a two volume medical text book Copeland and Afshari’s Principles and Practice of Cornea. He has been awarded numerous awards, such as AAO Achievement award, Super Doctor, Washingtonian Magazine Top Doctors, and Castle Connolly America’s Top Doctors.  Has travel nationally and internationally to lecture and perform humanitarian services for the underserved populations.

He was a mentor to many accomplished physicians across the country, many of whom are themselves mentors and trainers of physicians, and students.  His love and commitment to the faculty, fellows, residents and students are notable.  His patience and energy were boundless and he fully gave of himself to each individual to which he was connected.  Dr. Copeland could be counted as an advisor and friend.

On a personal level, Dr. Copeland was active in his religious community, achieving the position of Deacon, a job which he ministered to all under his purview.  Dr. Copeland's complete joy and happiness resonated around his lovely wife, Candi, his daughter,  Kennedie, and his twin boys Robert, III and Lucas  along with loving parents, Edgar and Joy Douglas and his brother, James.

Remembered by his Residents
Remembered by his Residents



Cincinnati, Ohio

Organized the initial pre-convention Ophthalmology workshop in 1971 in the City of Philadelphia. It is through his vision, dedication and fortitude that we now enjoy our current status as leaders in training, Continuing Medical Education, and  mentorship through the Ophthalmology Section of the National Medical Association. 

  • Received his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine in 1955
  • First AA Ophthalmologist in Cincinnati, first AA to intern at a private Cincinnati hospital, first AA president of the Cincinnati Eye Society, first AA Academic Faculty member of the UC department of ophthalmology
  • Organized the initial pre-convention Ophthalmology workshop in 1971 in the City of Philadelphia
  • Received Lifetime Service to the Section Award NMA Ophthalmology

Scarlette M Wilson, MD


Fairfax Station, Virginia

Graduated first in her class at the Howard University College of Pharmacy

Graduated Howard University College of Medicine in 1971(AOA)

First African American to be accepted as a resident in ophthalmology at the Univ of California San Francisco Medical Center

Private practice in San Francisco with a special interest in AIDS related eye diseases and complications

Continuing Medical Education Chair of the NMA for 12 years- Emeritus