Annual Review 2023

The power of sight

Dr Valerie Britton Wilson is an author who is grateful for the advances in eye research and wants to ensure it continues for current and future generations.


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Dr Valerie Britton Wilson is keenly aware of the importance of her vision – whether she’s working on her next book or taking daily walks through Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens. 

“The power of sight is absolutely intrinsic to my life,” says Valerie. 

“It allows me to read and write and experience the beauty of nature all of us want to clearly see.” 

After benefiting from sight-saving surgery, Valerie was driven to help others through volunteering and supporting charities. 

“I’ve seen how much research advances under organisations like CERA have benefited people all over the world,” she says. 

Now, Valerie’s helping to protect the sight of current and future generations by leaving a gift in her will to CERA. 

Early years

Valerie was born in Cambridge to an English father and Anglo-Indian mother, who met and fell in love in Mumbai while her father was on military leave during World War II.  

In 1954, her father landed a role as Music Director at a boys’ school in Melbourne, so the family, including her younger sister, boarded a ship and made the epic voyage to Australia. 

When Valerie was studying at university, she developed a very sore eye, which was initially misdiagnosed and mistreated as conjunctivitis. 

“My vision was gradually getting blurred in one eye, and then my GP diagnosed it as herpetic keratitis,” she says. 

Herpetic keratitis is an infection of the cornea – the clear window at the front of the eyes – that can sometimes lead to permanent scarring and even blindness. 

This condition eventually led to Valerie requiring emergency surgery for a perforated cornea. And then she was referred to a leading Professor at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. 

“He said there were only six people in Australia who could do what was necessary to give me the corneal transplant,” she says. 

After the transplant, Valerie’s vision became clearer but was left with slightly blurry central vision. 

“I’m very lucky to have very good vision in the other eye,” she says. 


Years later, Valerie visited India for the first time in 40 years – sparking a love affair with the country and a small business with her friend designing clothes from locally woven cotton.   

“I wasn’t a money-making venture, but it paid its way,” says Valerie.

The experiences led to Valerie writing her book, A Touch of India – interweaving her stories as a businesswoman in modern India with those her mother had written about growing up at the end of the British Empire. 

While they’ve since sold the business, the friends still visit India annually to check in on charities they’ve funded, such as those improving local access to eyecare.  

“We’ve donated to temporary eye clinics in India, where anyone can come and be treated by an ophthalmologist. It’s a drop in the ocean, but it’s a nice drop.” 

With a better understanding of other people’s experiences, Valerie volunteered as a news reader on Vision Australia’s 3RPH Radio and produced and hosted a show called Medical Insight. 

“I often interviewed hospital volunteers because I felt their stories often weren’t told,” says Valerie. 

Lasting legacy

While producing a radio story on the Lions Eye Bank (now known as the Lions Eye Donation Service), Valerie learned of CERA’s research into age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  

“I was always very interested to read what came in and tried to donate each year,” she says. 

“Their researchers are doing groundbreaking work. With our population getting older, the need for research into eye diseases associated with older age is essential.” 

Valerie’s father began to show signs of wet AMD in his 80s. While treatments eventually stabilised his condition, he could no longer read music.  

“That wasn’t a pleasant thing for him,” she says. 

Around that time, Valerie’s sister was diagnosed with dry AMD, which still has no effective treatments.  

When her father passed away, Valerie wanted to guarantee that some of her inheritance went to CERA and decided to leave a gift in her will. 

“I have a feeling that people think ‘bequest’ is a big word, but it’s very easy thing to leave a charity in your will,” she says. 

“I hope my bequest benefits current generations and future generations all over the world.” 


This story was originally published in People in focus: Annual Review 2023.

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