Professor Brien Holden
By Rhiannon Riches
Humour and colourful language prevailed as friends and colleagues honoured and farewelled Brien Holden, the man whom they knew possessed a keen sense of both.
Professor Holden’s funeral captured his character and humanity, with those attending eulogising about the stories and anecdotes that illustrated the personality of the man who became an exceptional leader.
Many people came from overseas and interstate to mourn him and some felt that the funeral was a much needed opportunity to talk about his life.
From failing second year optometry to receiving the Medal of the Order of Australia, Professor Holden’s career took unexpected turns and brought untold reward.
A profound sense of loss has been felt around the world. This was a man who didn’t intend to retire until 2020. His death has left many reflecting on what might have been.
The acting CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Professor Kovin Naidoo, was reported to have noted in his eulogy Professor Holden’s ‘ripe’ language, and that his colleagues were apprehensive when he won his latest global award because they knew the acceptance speech would be colourful.
There were few awards in optometry that Professor Holden had not received during his illustrious career.
The Brien Holden Vision Institute, a driving force in vision research, will stand as his enduring legacy, a powerhouse in name and reputation.
Professor Holden died on 27 July, aged 73. His funeral service took place at Our Lady of The Rosary Parish in Kensington, Sydney, followed by a wake at Sydney Cricket Ground Members Pavilion on 3 August.
He was an inspiration to many. Here, some colleagues share their thoughts.
After so many years it is very difficult to fully comprehend the significance of Brien’s passing. He will be sadly missed by countless numbers of people around the world, and many meetings and conferences will be the worse for his absence.
Brien achieved many notable things in one lifetime, much of which I have been fortunate to have witnessed. It has been a privilege to see him receiving so many awards in recognition of his humanity, generosity and truly unique contributions to vision care.
I will surely miss his friendship and support, as will many, many others. My hope is that his many friends and colleagues will be able to realise continuing successful outcomes for all of Brien’s hopes for the future.
May he rest in peace knowing that we will do our best in that regard.
Charles McMonnies DSc, Adjunct Professor, School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW
The very sad news of Brien’s passing is profoundly deep for all of us, his loving family, the people with whom he worked in Australia and around the world, the eye-care profession, the industry, the millions of people he has helped and all those Brien planned to support in the future.
I met Brien in 1972 when he took up a role at UNSW. We remained great friends for 43 years. He had a significant impact on the professional development and careers of many of us.
He so greatly inspired me that I am still involved well into my retirement. To Brien, it was ‘our beloved CCLSA’ where our mission to educate students and practitioners and to generate funds for ongoing research became our mantra.
Brien’s leadership role in the CCLSA dates back to the early 1970s. From this time his engagement became instrumental in forming the International Cornea & Contact Lens Congress (ICCLC). His teams managed the scientific program and ensured that these meetings became truly international.
It was an honour for me to be asked to join the Optometry Giving Sight national committee in 2008 and to eventually become its chair.
Brien was indeed a larger than life person who lived and served every day beyond all of us. Our challenge now is to endeavour to honour his legacy and ensure that his visions continue. He was a very dear friend and will be sadly missed by many, including me.
Dorothy Carlborg, CEO Cornea & Contact Lens Society of Australia, Chair Optometry Giving Sight National Committee
Describing Brien Holden demands the use of some pretty big adjectives—inspiring, visionary, bold, pioneering. He was a much-loved leader in every facet of his life, both professional and on the home front.
Brien surrounded himself with outstanding individuals who will remain inspired to carry out his vision beyond his own lifetime. That’s the hallmark of a true leader.
Brien was a great friend to ACBO and the Susan Larter Vision Trust of which he was the patron. We will remember the funny, generous, big-picture thinker who didn’t hesitate to call a spade a ****** shovel. Although we are incredibly sad that Brien is gone, our organisational partnership will go on and he will be remembered with great fondness.
Veronica Kypros, Executive Officer, Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists
I first met Brien at City University, London in January 1969. We worked together one way or another from the time he arrived at the School of Optometry in Sydney in 1972: a long time and I will certainly miss him.
Brien was a ‘one off’. He had many outstanding characteristics; most of all he was an extremely humane person. With his colleagues and with his students, he was quick to offer and provide help when needed.
For 50 years Brien devoted his life to improving the lot of the world’s more than 600 million visually impaired people. His efforts and achievements have been recognised, applauded and adopted world-wide. He is sadly missed.
Emeritus Professor Brian Layland OAM OLM
We thought Brien Holden immortal despite his continuous fast pace of working and living as there was always ‘so much more to do’. Brien touched the lives of hundreds of people and I cannot speak strongly enough about his vision, leadership, tenacity or achievements.
Thank you for so many memories and for the opportunity to be part of your enterprises. You shaped me, taught me and inspired me. I know every challenge is an opportunity.
Professor Deborah Sweeney, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation, Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research & Development, University of Western Sydney
It’s hard to imagine an optometry world without Brien. He was instrumental in putting Australia on the map as a contact lens research powerhouse.
His work has touched millions more people around the world through eye-care education, with schools of optometry established in Africa and Asia tackling the utterly preventable scourge of uncorrected refractive error.
Recently, his focus had moved to myopia control, spreading the message about the looming myopic maculopathy boom for our adults of tomorrow who become progressing myopic kids today.
He has done big things for our profession and his sudden departure leaves a larger-than-life hole and remarkable legacy, which will be carried on by his colleagues in Australia and around the world.
Kate Gifford, President, Optometry Australia