Founder remembered and honored

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As course offerings at the new West Virginia University Health Sciences Center continued to take shape in 1961, there were no immediate plans for an ophthalmology program. This prompted Boston eye specialist Robert R. Trotter, M.D., to return to Morgantown – his hometown – with a vision for the future. The WVU Eye Institute recently celebrated the Department of Ophthalmology’s 50 years of service and growth by honoring its founder and first chair.

Motivated by a deep commitment to give back to his home state, Trotter created the WVU School Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology, going without pay from the university for the endeavor’s first two years. To support himself in the meantime, Trotter worked part-time in the Morgantown practice of his brother, John Trotter, M.D.

“He had been at Harvard for 13 years when his brother told him there were no plans to include an eye specialty at the new medical school. West Virginia had the most diabetics in the country, and he thought hard about that,” Dr. Trotter’s widow, Jodie, said. “Robert and Ruth, the first Mrs. Trotter, sacrificed everything to come back to West Virginia. Ruth was a busy pediatrician, and she gave up her career in Boston. He spent two years pounding the pavement to raise the money to start the department.”

In 1964, Trotter established WVU’s three-year ophthalmology residency program. Since then, West Virginia’s only ophthalmology training program has trained more than 120 eye residents and fellows.

“Robert said attracting residents was the difficult part. What resident is going to come to a school with one faculty member and no track record?” Mrs. Trotter said. “But he persevered and brought residents and kept going.”

Since those early days, WVU’s Department of Ophthalmology and the WVU Eye Institute have evolved into a state-of-the-art clinical and learning environment. The Eye Institute welcomes about 39,000 patients from all West Virginia counties and neighboring states each year. There are 16 faculty physicians on staff, along with nine residents-in-training and four research faculty. WVU ophthalmologists have shared their expertise both across the state and internationally through community outreach programs.

“From the beginning, Dr. Trotter was determined to establish an outstanding program to educate leaders in our field,” Judie Charlton, M.D., professor and chair of the WVU Department of Ophthalmology, said. “Thanks to his extraordinary commitment, we’re here 50 years later training medical professionals dedicated to the mission of restoring vision and preventing blindness.”

A celebratory program and reception were held Friday, Aug. 26 at the WVU Eye Institute, attended by several special guests, including Mrs. Trotter. The first Stride for Sight Walk took place immediately following the festivities, with all proceeds benefiting the Eye Institute.

“When Robert told me how he gave up everything to start the department, I was amazed,” Mrs. Trotter said. “He thought nothing of it. My Robert felt it was expected of a West Virginian to give back to his state. He was such a wonderful person.”

To learn more about the WVU Eye Institute, visit

For more information: Leigh Limerick, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
lal: 09-01-11