by Peggy Shelly

Without a doubt, Lorraine Lombardi is a gifted educator. After a fifty-year teaching career, she is - also without a doubt - beloved. 

MOST PEOPLE CAN NAME at least one teacher whose influence is remembered with affection and gratitude. For more than 7,000 Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) and hundreds of Salus University alumni, that person is Dr. Lombardi. Her name evokes an immediate reaction of smiles and reminisces, usually followed by declarations of “I loved Dr. Lombardi’s classes!” or “I learned so much from Dr. Lombardi.”  

Hired by Dr. Onofrey (“Rybie”) Rybachok as a full-time instructor at PCO in fall 1968, Lorraine Lombardi, with masters’ degrees from Hahnemann Medical College Graduate School in hand, arrived on PCO’s thirty-two acre Oak Lane campus, now the site of The Eye Institute and Philadelphia Community College of Philadelphia. According to Robert M. Mintz, OD ’72, a student in Dr. Lombardi’s first class, “Rybie brought Lorraine into the class and, with a big smile, said, ‘I would like to introduce my best choice to you.’” It did not take long to prove Dr. Rybachok right.

Lorraine and Rybie
From the beginning, Dr. Lombardi (who earned her PhD in Anatomy, with a Specialization in Neuro in 1981 from Hahnemann Medical College Graduate School while also working full-time 
at PCO), “wanted to be the best neu-ro-anatomist” she could be. She recalls being younger than most students in her predominantly male first class (Class of 1972), and only one or two years older than the others. 

Prior to her PCO appointment, Dr. Lombardi lectured at Hahnemann Medical College Graduate School. Her mentor there was Mary Jane Showers, PhD, “a marvelous neuro-anatomist,” herself a soft-spoken but high-expecta-tion-setting instructor, words that have been used many times to also describe Dr. Lombardi. In addition to Dr. Showers, another great mentor was Dr. Rybachok. Her “best, most positive mentor” how-ever, was Gilda Crozier, OD ’43. “Gilda taught me to think about what you are teaching, and what its application was to what you had to teach,” she said. 

Lorraine LombardiDr. Lombardi’s words about her mentor are echoed by her own former student, now colleague, Susan Oleszewski, OD ’76, who says she regards her mentor, Dr. Lombardi, as a PCO trailblazer. Dr. Oleszewski notes one particular “pedagogical pearl” from Dr. Lombardi that helped shape the way she herself lectures. “Lorraine taught me you must make a compelling case for how important this information is to your students,” she said. “You have to tell the story; you have to keep reminding them — and you have to connect the dots throughout your lecture.” In speaking of the high-quality content of Lombardi lectures, she adds, “Lorraine’s notes were studied by Temple University medical students. She taught a hard topic in a no-nonsense style, but she always had time to help her students connect the dots.” 

According to Dr. Oleszewski, “students always wanted to do well for Lorraine.” The nights before Lombardi exams during the pre-email, voicemail era would find frenzied students trading phone calls, quizzing one another on minutiae, which Dr. Oleszewski notes was never in the quizzes. “Lorraine was so respectful and kind, and she worked at engaging students… she was always available to go over concepts… and she spent many hours in her office with her students,” Dr. Oleszewski said.   

Another former Lombardi student, current Salus University president, Michael Mittelman, OD ’80, speaks of her “uniquely creative and effective teaching style combined with her unparalleled commitment to excellence” that results in a “large cohort of professionals with an appreciation and understanding of neuro and gross anatomy that most healthcare professionals don’t enjoy.” 

Dr. Mittelman says he has “never had an instructor of her caliber since attending PCO,” noting, “Lorraine has that  very special way of teaching that results in her students really learning the material and understanding how to apply  that learning to their specific professions.” He adds, “That is very special — and so is Lorraine.”

From the beginning, Dr. Lombardi understood neuro was an important part of optometry and believed strongly PCO graduates could distinguish themselves not only as professional experts, but as experts in the neurologic basis for vision and neuro-ophthalmic disease. 

Lorraine Lombardi WhitecoatTo help her students, she developed head and neck gross anatomy, and neuro-anatomy courses that were stimulating and exceptionally challenging, believing these courses would ensure PCO alumni could distinguish themselves and the optometry profession in the diagnosis of neuro-based diseases. She says now, “Neuro doesn’t change, so I taught optometry students about neuro, and added eyes and vision.” 

When asked if she was responsible for introducing neuro-anatomy at PCO and in turn, raising its profile within optometry, Dr. Lombardi is quick to say no. “Rybie, Gilda, and Dr. [Harold] Simmerman ‘30 were the scholarly clinicians who introduced neuro before I got there,” she said. She did note that PCO led other optometry schools in the biological sciences “for a very long time” because it was in a city with five medical schools. In speaking of her contribution, she explains, “I worked hard to be the best neuro-anatomist, and to make sure clinical neuro was explained by the science. Later, Larry Gray, OD ’72 (a student in her first and second years of teaching) was working hard to study neuro diseases, and in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s we planned lectures and presented together.”

Dr. Gray then trained Leonard Messner, OD ’84, currently vice president of Patient Care Services at Illinois Eye Institute, and Patricia Modica, OD ’88, who is now an assistant clinical professor at the State University of New York College of Optometry’s Eye Center. Kelly Malloy, OD ‘96, began her neuro-ophthalmic disease studies under Dr. Gray at The Eye Institute (TEI), and is now its chief of Neuro-Ophthalmic disease service. In turn, Dr. Malloy taught neuro-ophthalmic disease to Cheri Farkash, OD ’03, now a University of Michigan clinical instructor in Ophthalmology and Visual Science, and Erin Draper, OD ’09, PCO assistant professor, who works alongside Dr. Malloy in the Neuro-Oph-thalmic disease service at TEI. In 2017, Drs. Malloy and Draper taught a two-year neuro-ophthalmic residency at TEI to Ashley Maglione, OD ’15 and Kelsey Moody, OD ’15, both of whom are now PCO instructors. Lombardi students all.

The Lombardi Neuro-Eye Legacy
Over the past several months, Continuing Education (CE) lectures — now dubbed the “Lombardi Farewell Tour,” have traveled to North Carolina, and Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Elkins Park, Pa. The “Tour” happily provides alumni an opportunity to see Dr. Lombardi before her official June retirement, and will conclude in New Jersey in August. During these receptions, many have shared their memories and stories of Dr. Lombardi.

When Lorraine Lombardi arrived at PCO in 1968, the institution was younger (49) than the number of years she would teach there before retiring. Optometry was still finding its voice and making its contributions known to the medical profession, and she would play a large part in helping to define optometry’s neuro-anatomy impact.

Lombardi PortraitDr. Lombardi’s legacy continues in her students. When questioned about her career she says, “What you do gives you purpose, though I didn’t think about that when I was teaching… it’s hard to say if I would do anything differently… I had a sense of fulfillment that I had purpose… hearing these stories has been wonderful and unexpected. I wish everyone could have a career like I had.” 

To that, the thousands of PCO and Salus students Lorraine Lombardi taught would say, “I wish that everyone could have a teacher like I had.”