Remembering Professor Ian Flett Robertson OAM (1928-2021)
CERA celebrates the life of Professor Ian Robertson OAM and acknowledges his contribution to the Lions Eye Donation Service.
Professor Ian Robertson (1928–2021) will always be recognised for his extraordinary work establishing the Lions Eye Bank of Victoria (now known as the Lions Eye Donation Service) and restoring the sight of hundreds of Australians.
He raised funds to set the wheels in motion for the eye bank, advocated for reforms to revolutionise organ donations and set up the framework for managing corneal donations in Victoria.
For many years, Professor Robertson worked at the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital Victoria and founded its corneal clinic.
He also worked with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Fred Hollows Foundation and the Aboriginal Eye Health in the Northern Territory. He was an active member of the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, organising several congresses.
At that time, he was responsible for eye donations in Victoria.
An encounter with a patient, who was then a District Governor of the Lions Club in Victoria, led to the Club supporting the eye bank.
Since then, more than 7000 people have enjoyed better sight from corneal donations.
A pioneering mind, a caring heart
Professor Robertson had a leading-edge approach to his work.
A defining achievement was pursuing the compulsory HIV testing of donated tissues in the 1980s.
The logistics were huge, but it resulted in corneal donations in Victoria as the first place in Australia to test for HIV.
This dedication to quality and safety was not limited to his clinical work.
Long before the internet, he created a manual for how corneal donations were to be done and diligently kept a log of donations and transplants. These documents are still available at the Lions Eye Donation Service at CERA.
Dr Graeme Pollock OAM, director of the Lions Eye Donation Service recalls the time he joined the eye bank in the early 1990s.
“Ian Robertson was always trying to do what’s best for his patients,” says Dr Pollock. “He was a generous person. I received enormous encouragement and praise from him.”
His students and patients always said good things about him.
Dr Mark Ellis AM, who was one of Professor Robertson’s registrars and co-workers for years was witness to this.
“After Ian retired, he worked in my clinic doing a few sessions a week and he was popular among patients,” recalls Dr Ellis. “The proof was that Ian would get more Christmas presents from patients than me!”
Dr Robertson’s daughter Amanda, a renal surgeon, witnessed this passion for patient care.
“Dad loved his work and patients,” says Amanda. “He was a very kind and smart gentleman, and a loyal friend. He was also a perfect husband, father and grandfather.”
Pursuing interests outside of work
A ‘quiet’ and ‘humble’ person, few would expect the range of interests he pursued. Dr Robertson enjoyed fly fishing and often went to New Zealand to fish. He was a great conversationalist and relished stories on a range of topics. He loved listening to opera and when his vision failed, classical music became his focus.
He also loved to travel with his partner Joan. Often he would come back from these trips with photographs and used them to paint scenery, which he kept in his gallery.
A colleague, mentor and father, Professor Robertson leaves behind a legacy to many.
Dr Ellis who remained very good friends with Professor Robertson sums it up: “He was a good example of a clinical academic doctor, who had great compassion and time for his patients and colleagues. He lacked self-importance and pomposity, which many people could really take a leaf out of his example.”