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Bruce Besley 1990   Photo: Kett Optometry Museum, ACO



By Helen Carter


Optometrist Bruce Besley, a former president of both Optometry Australia and the Australian College of Optometry, has died in Melbourne.

Mr Besley, who died at the weekend, was instrumental in helping to achieve Medicare benefits for optometry.

He was national president of Optometry Australia from 1970 to 1973 and had been involved in the affairs of the organisation at national and state levels. In 1969 he was awarded life membership of Optometry Victoria.

Forty years ago the tenacity and hard work of Mr Besley and other members of the organisation’s national executive council, particularly Arthur Ley from Tasmania, vice-president Brian Layland from NSW and the CEO of the then Australian Optometrical Association Dr Damien Smith, enabled optometry to enter Medicare.

Friend and colleague Professor Barry Cole was director of the ACO when Mr Besley served his 13 year term as ACO president from 1978 to 1991. Professor Cole described him as a quiet achiever behind the scenes of the Medicare victory and the college rebuilding program.

Mr Besley was a member of the ACO Council for 34 years from 1957, during which time he served as chairman of operational committees and treasurer.

‘The big achievement of his presidency was that he was responsible for the college’s major rebuilding program,’ Professor Cole said. ‘Bruce raised millions of dollars from universities and state governments and took a fair degree of financial risk to achieve this major goal.’

Mr Besley obtained his Licentiate of Optometric Science at the ACO in 1951 and in March 1963 was part of the first small group of LOSc diplomates who obtained a Bachelor of Applied Science (Optometry) from the conversion course at the University of Melbourne.

He practised in Ivanhoe then worked for Sanky Fraser in Swanston Street, Melbourne, before buying the practice. He later owned and worked in practices in Collins Street, Melbourne, Doncaster and Glenroy.

 ‘Bruce was a very good practitioner and made very significant contributions to optometry. He was charming and easy-going and had no pretences about him,’ Professor Cole said.

‘He liked talking to and meeting people, which went down well with his patients. He was a nice, ethical, honest person whom you could trust with your last dollar. Although he was conservative, he had a socialist heart.

Professor Cole said Mr Besley enjoyed optometry immensely and kept up with changing times. He pursued contact lens practice and when he was of retirement age, was one of the first Australian optometrists to undertake a therapeutic drugs course organised by Optometry Australia’s Victoria Division before therapeutics legislation was enacted.

About a decade ago Mr Besley founded the Gerioptics Group, comprising mostly retired optometrists who had been associated with the ACO. The group met annually for lunch at Melbourne’s RACV City Club.

‘The Gerioptics Group met in May this year and Bruce said this is the last one he will be chairing,’ Professor Cole said.

Mr Besley is survived by his wife Pat and their children including their son Mark, an optometrist who practises in Mount Eliza and Rosebud.

His funeral will be held at LePines, 741 High Street, East Kew, on 23 October at 3:30 pm.

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Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation Optometry Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.