ABO Mourns Dr. William H. Spencer, 1925-2017, Former Executive Director and Emeritus Director


It is with deep sadness that the American Board of Ophthalmology notes the passing of William H. Spencer, M.D., Director of the Board from 1974 to 1981 and Executive Director of the organization from 1986 to 1995.

Dr. Spencer was born in New York City in 1925. His enthusiasm for ophthalmology was lifelong. As a child, Dr. Spencer had been treated for a hypermetropic accommodative squint in his left eye by an uncle who was an ophthalmologist. From him, Dr. Spencer learned how lenses worked. Dr. Spencer studied the basic principles of optics on a bench his uncle had fashioned to study for his own American Board of Ophthalmology examinations in the 1920s—the very exams Dr. Spencer would go on to oversee, first as a Director, then as the organization’s Executive Director, several decades later.

Following his graduation from the first four-year class of the Bronx High School of Science, Dr. Spencer served in the Army’s 87th Infantry Division and was wounded during the Battle of Bulge, earning a Purple Heart. He was discharged in 1946. Dr. Spencer then studied optometry at the University of California Berkeley before earning his medical degree at the University of California School of Medicine (San Francisco). He completed an internship at Philadelphia General Hospital, ophthalmology residency training at UCSF, and a Heed Fellowship in ophthalmic pathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.

Upon completion of fellowship training, Dr. Spencer joined the faculty at UCSF from 1959 through 1972. Later, as medical director of the Doheny Eye Clinic, Dr. Spencer was responsible for the design and construction of the new center. In 1975, he moved on to Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center as the Gellert Professor of Ophthalmology and director of the pathology laboratory.

A noted educator, clinician, and ophthalmic pathologist, Dr. Spencer published extensively throughout his life and delivered numerous named lectures, including the Jackson Memorial Lecture at the American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting in 1978. A history enthusiast, Dr. Spencer was also the curator for the American Academy of Ophthalmology Foundation’s Oral Histories Program.

As a Director of the ABO, Dr. Spencer participated in the profession’s earliest discussions on recertification in the late 1970s and served as Chair of the Board in 1981. During his time as Executive Director of the ABO, Dr. Spencer oversaw the introduction of time-limited certification, the evolution of the Patient Management Problem (PMP) question format of the Oral Examination, and the organization’s 75th anniversary.

The ABO joins the community of ophthalmology in recognizing and remembering Dr. Spencer’s tremendous contributions to the profession.

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