Dr Velma Dobson, PhD

Velma at CVRS1991, Rotterdam

Margaret Velma Dobson, known to most of us as Velma, died on Friday April 9, 2010. She was 61 years old and had progressive motor neuron disease (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Velma will be sadly missed by her many friends and colleagues in the child vision research community.

An Obituary by Graham Quinn of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Dr. Dobson was a Professor in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Vision Science and Psychology at the University of Arizona and a renowned vision scientist. She obtained her PhD at Brown University with Loren Riggs, PhD, and then completed post-doctoral fellowships Tufts-New England Medical Center with Sam Sokol, PhD, and at the University of Washington with Davida Teller, PhD. She was on the faculty at University of Washington and University of Pittsburgh before moving to University of Arizona in 1994. Her work and career exemplified the integration of two key themes in understanding the development of vision in infants and children.

First, she asked fundamental questions about the development of visual abilities in infants and how these skills integrate with other aspects of their motor and cognitive development. Much of her early work concentrated on acquiring an understanding of the development of visual acuity, the visual field, and contrast sensitivity in infants and young children. She and her colleagues developed techniques for defining normal visual development of infants and young children in a laboratory setting.

Second, she sought to translate the new knowledge obtained from her research into clinical care of infants and children. In particular, she contributed her expertise to two large clinical trials determining the effectiveness of treatment for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a potentially blinding disease that may develop in premature babies. Earlier determination of functional benefit could be made, before a child could complete more standard measures of acuity and, thus, treatments could be assessed in terms of the resulting vision rather than simply the appearance of the eye as was done previously.

When she arrived in Arizona in 1994, Dr. Dobson applied her expertise in assessment of visual function to her work with a local Native American Tribe, the Tohono O’odham, in which she studied the effects of high astigmatism, prevalent among members of the tribe, on the development of vision in infants and children and the effectiveness of clinical treatment for astigmatism-related amblyopia.

Essentially, her work and that of her colleagues in many parts of the world put an end to the subjective judgment of a child’s acuity as an acceptable answer to the question: “What can this child see?” The provision of quantitative visual function measures, including those of visual acuity and visual field, improved the design of numerous additional clinical trials in pediatric ophthalmology and optometry and, as a result, Dr Dobson’s work will have extensive and lasting benefits for many infants and children throughout the world.

She was also very important in the ROP and vision screening worlds. The CRYO-ROP and ETROP papers all passed thru her hands and though she might not have been chair on those committee-written papers, her imprint is on all of them and they reflect her clear logic and rigorous approach. and then there are the VIP papers. She may not have been first on some of these but her contribution was immense.

In memory of Velma, Eileen Birch is organizing an ARVO travel fellowship. Eileen writes:

"I am writing to you to ask if you will help to honor Velma Dobson's many contributions to our field by establishing an ARVO travel fellowship in her honor.

Velma was a dear friend, generous colleague, and mentor to so many of us. She improved our writing, she helped us to find better ways to analyze our data, and shared her scientific insights with such enthusiasm. She was a proud Mom with a great natural instinct for balance between career and family that served as a role model and resource for so many of us who were struggling to do the same. Since the earliest days of the "ARVO baby party" in Sarasota to the recent "Infant Vision Socials" in Fort Lauderdale, I will always associate Velma with ARVO - her wonderful talks and posters, the chance to discuss our latest studies, and a chance to share the stories of our lives.

At this time, I am writing to ask you to make a donation toward establishing an ARVO travel fellowship in her honor. I am collecting the donations at the Retina Foundation and will forward them to the ARVO Foundation later this year to endow the fellowship. Our goal is to permanently endow a travel fellowship so that it can be awarded every year in perpetuity, beginning in 2011. We will need to raise $20,000 - $25,000 to meet this goal, so please be generous.

[Below is a download link to a form] that you can use to make a donation by check or credit card.

I encourage you to forward this [information] to others who may want to donate to this fund. "

Donation Form ( 28kB)
(right-click and select "Save target/link as...)

Further Tributes:

Dobson V. "Taking Stock: Infant and Child Vision Research." Optom Vis Sci 2009;86(6):557-8.
Article as PDF (78 KB)

Adams Anthony J. "A Self-Evident Tribute: Infant and Child Research" Optom Vis Sci 2009;86(6):555-6
Article as PDF (509 KB)

Announcement: University of Arizona

Obituary at Legacy.com

Online Guestbook at Legacy.com

Obituary: Arizona Daily Star