For more than a half century, John Duncan Robinson, OD ’54, was an influential and driving force for the profession of optometry from his home base in Wallace, North Carolina. For more than three decades Dr. Robinson testified throughout the country in support of therapeutic drug legislation similar to that enacted in 1977 in North Carolina and he remained actively involved in legislative affairs into his eighties. “Dr. John” was a force to be reckoned with and an unforgettable character.
A US Navy veteran of World War II, Dr. Robinson graduated from Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO)
in 1954 and returned to his native North Carolina. There he began to see an urgent need for optometrists to be able to use the tools that up to that point were reserved for the traditional medical profession. In a 2008 interview for the alumni magazine he said, “Early on, I found a great deal of sympathy for and agreement with the need to change the Optometry Practice Act to allow the diagnosis, treatment, and management of diseases and injuries of the eye – for which prescriptive authority for pharmaceutical agents was necessary – among my North Carolina colleagues, especially those who were PCO alumni.” By the time Dr. Robinson had been in practice for 10 years, the foundation for approaching the North Carolina legislature to make major changes in the Optometry Practice Act was being forged.
Dr. Robinson was executive director of the North Carolina Board of Examiners in Optometry. President Michael Clark, OD, issued this statement on behalf of the board: “… it is with a mixture of sadness and gratitude that the NC Board of Examiners is adjusting to the loss of …Dr. John Robinson. With sadness, because we will no longer be able to tap into the valuable insights of one of the most influential leaders in the history of our profession. With gratitude, because Dr. Robinson has overseen the development and left us with a modern, forward-thinking Board with administrative, legal and regulatory functions second to none.”
Dr. Robinson’s long and illustrious career included memberships in many noteworthy organizations such as the North Carolina State Optometric Society; American Optometric Association; Life Member, American Optometric Foundation, and Life Member, Association of Regulatory Boards in Optometry (formerly the International Association of Boards of Examiners in Optometry).
He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor in May 1995 at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry 75th Anniversary celebration, and received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from PCO in 1999. The North Carolina State Optometric Society honored Dr. Robinson at the 25th Anniversary celebration of the enactment of its therapeutic drug law in 2002. They established the John D. Robinson Clinical Excellence Award, granted each year to the North Carolina optometrist showing "excellence in clinical practice and ophthalmic medicine." Dr. Robinson was elected to the National Optometry Hall of Fame in 2006.
In addition to his private practice, Dr. Robinson held a number of positions in professional organizations over the years. They included vice president of the North Carolina State Optometric Society, Department of Legislation (1957-69); an appointment to the North Carolina State Board of Examiners in Optometry (1964-90); Board member for the Federation of the International Association of Boards of Examiners in Optometry from its inception, where he also served as Federation vice president, secretary/treasurer and president until his retirement in 1993. Dr. Robinson served a five-year term on the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBOE), and was secretary, vice president and, from 1987 to 1992, president.
In that same alumni interview, Dr. Robinson said it had been a “privilege to serve in the cause of advancing his profession from the day it was ‘drugless’ to what is popularly known now as ‘primary eye care,’ which encompasses the treatment and management of diseases of the eye.” He also remarked how glad he was to have had a role in bringing about that change.
He is survived by his wife, Judith Hope King Robinson; sons, J. Daniel Robinson, OD, and Leslie Scott Robinson; daughter, Dee Anna R. Mott; stepson, Henry Pye, and their spouses; nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.