Heed Ophthalmic Foundation

History of the Heed Ophthalmic Foundation

Late in the fall of 1945, Mr. Thomas D. Heed (1875-1957), a prominent and wealthy Chicago businessman, visited the office of Derrick Vail Jr., the chairman of the Ophthalmology Department at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. Mr. Heed told Dr. Vail that he would like to establish a foundation for the purpose of funding the post-graduate training of young, talented ophthalmologists.

As Dr. Vail recalled, both Mr. Heed and his wife, Ruth, had a personal history of serious eye disease. As a young man, Mr. Heed endured several severe attacks of what has been interpreted as bilateral iritis. Years later his wife suffered a retinal detachment which was successfully repaired by Dr. Harry S. Gradle of Chicago, a respected clinician and a leader in American ophthalmology.

The manner in which these events played out was a remarkable coincidence. Mr. Heed describes in his own words his and his wife’s eye problems and the ensuing events.

“I spent three months in a dark room when I was a boy of nineteen. At that time I faced the possibility of complete blindness. A boy can do a lot of thinking in three months and I determined then that if I could ever do anything to prevent blindness, I would do it. Years later my wife suffered a detached retina which resulted favorably after a desperate operation. The success of this operation was due to the experience, skill and devotion of one of the world’s great eye doctors, Dr. Harry S. Gradle.” “It was Dr. Gradle who told me that anything which helped the blind was praiseworthy, but that the vitally important thing was to prevent blindness. This, he said, could best be accomplished today by skillful and extensive eye surgery and eye research. He instanced the advances being made in detached retina operations, corneal transplants, removal of certain types of eye tumors, cataracts, etc.” “After conferences with leading eye surgeons in this country it was decided that the best line of approach was to provide fellowships for the most promising young eye doctors who had determined to spend their lives in eye work. To this end, the Heed Ophthalmic Foundation was established to provide advanced education and training for post-graduate eye studies for both men and women.”


During the late 1800s and early 1900s, most physicians practicing ophthalmology in the United States had little or no specialty training. Some eye specialists established themselves by serving short periods of time with a practicing ophthalmologist, usually no longer than a year. Some general practitioners simply announced they were Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat specialists while others might have attended proprietary schools which provided several weeks or months of lectures. By 1937 in the United States, there were only eight residencies for eye training of three years or longer duration. At this time, the majority of residencies offered one or two years of mainly clinical training. The American Board of Ophthalmology was established in 1916 and the first examination was administered in 1917. This was the first attempt to establish standards for competency in ophthalmology. However, there were no accepted standards for residency education and clinical training. The Residency Review Committee was only established in 1956 and it still took many years before there was acceptance and implementation of the basic and clinical residency training requirements for ophthalmology. In the early 1940s, residency training still consisted mainly of observation with little or no basic ophthalmic education or supervised surgical experience.

In 1946, there were no post-residency fellowship programs and certainly no funds to support them. The Heed Ophthalmic Foundation provided the first resource for not only the encouragement of post-residency training, but also funding for that training.


Without Dr. Gradle’s insightful counseling of Thomas Heed regarding the need for additional ophthalmic training, The Heed Ophthalmic Foundation, as it is known, would not have come into existence.

Dr. Gradle was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of an ophthalmologist. Following undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan in 1906, he received his medical degree from Rush Medical College in 1908, a two-year medical school. Over the next several years he obtained his ophthalmology training in Europe by studying in Berlin, London, Paris, Prague, and Vienna. At that time, the European eye centers provided the best training in the world for ophthalmologists. Dr. Gradle subsequently returned to Chicago devoting his clinical practice exclusively to ophthalmology.

Throughout his career, Dr. Gradle was committed not only to his own professional education but also to the education of his students and fellow practitioners. His academic appointments included professor of ophthalmology at both Northwestern and the Illinois Eye & Ear Infirmary where he also served as chief of staff. He was the residency program director at both Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary and Michael Reese Hospital.

Dr. Gradle became very active in the American Academy of Ophthalmology and served as its president in 1938. In 1920, he chaired the committee on post-graduate education which established both the home study course, the precursor of the basic and clinical science course of today, and the Academy’s instruction course program. He was also a member of the American Ophthalmological Society.

With his awareness of the lack of structure and quality of ophthalmology residency training in the United States, he worked tirelessly to improve it. When asked by Thomas Heed what could be done to prevent blindness, Dr. Gradle immediately told him that it was most important to provide more post-residency training to talented young ophthalmologists. Through this suggestion, the Heed Ophthalmic Foundation was established on May 29, 1946 and it provided the first support for post-graduate fellowship training in the United States.


Thomas Heed (1875-1957) and Ruth Byers Heed (1893-1964) were both born and educated in the Midwest. Mr. Heed was born in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated from the College of Emporia, Kansas. He entered the railroad service in the general auditor’s office of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway Company. Then, in succession, he became cashier of the Southwestern Passenger Bureau and chief clerk of the Treasury Department of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad, assistant secretary and treasurer of the same Railroad, and assistant secretary and treasurer of the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad.

Mr. Heed became president of the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad from 1913-1915 and also was receiver for the railroad. Later he became a director and served in this capacity from 1921-1931. He was also director of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad. Mr. Heed headed a number of business ventures. He was president and director of the Chicago Transfer and Clearing Company. He was also president of the Nevada Land Company, Nevada Mining Company, Judson Land Company, and Judson Mining Company. He subsequently became senior partner in Colvin & Company, Investment Bankers and Brokers in New York City.

In 1931, Mr. Heed became Chairman of the Board of the Edward Hines Lumber Company of Chicago and later served as director. He was also director of the Clearing Industrial District in Chicago. During World War Two, he served as Chairman of the United States Navy Price Adjustment Board, Chicago Division from 1942-1945. He was a member of the Midday and Tavern Clubs in Chicago and the Midday Club of New York City.

Ruth Byers Heed was born in 1895 in Greenville, Ohio. In 1914, she went to New York City to attend the School of Journalism at Columbia University. Before she finished her first term she accepted a position on the New York American and became a feature writer for the Hearst Newspapers. In 1919, she and another woman founded the Phoenix News Publicity Bureau. Following her marriage to Mr. Heed in 1925 she retired from her firm. The Heed’s had no children. While their permanent residence was always Chicago, in their later years, they spent most of their winters in California and Arizona.


With funding guaranteed by Mr. Heed and the advice of Dr. Derrick Vail Jr. and Dr. Hayward Post of St. Louis, the Heed Ophthalmic Foundation was incorporated as a private foundation in 1946. The articles of the Trust agreement stipulated that the Board of Directors would consist of five members, three of whom at all times would be the heads of Eye Departments of Harvard Medical School, Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, University of California Medical School, Washington University School of Medicine and Northwestern Medical School. The other two Directors would be chosen from the membership of the American Ophthalmological Society. The original Board of Directors consisted of Dr. Vail as chairman; Dr. John Dunnington of Columbia University; Dr. R. Townley Paton, Manhattan Eye & Ear Infirmary; Dr. Frederick Cordes, University of California at San Francisco; and Hayward Post of St. Louis as secretary.

The stated purpose of the Heed Trust was: “...of furthering the education of and research by, promising men and women of exceptional ability who are citizens of the United States, who are graduates of approved medical schools, who desire to further their education in the field of diseases of the eye and eye surgery or desire to carry on research work and investigation in said field.” Fellowship candidates were required to conduct their training in the United States. Mr. Heed’s gift of $6000 in 1946 funded the first fellowships.

The five original directors of the Heed Foundation were all members of the American Ophthalmological Society (AOS). The AOS was the first nation-wide specialty society. Subspecialty organizations did not exist and the main sources of post-graduate education were through the meetings of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Ophthalmological Society and the AMA Section on Ophthalmology. The five directors continued until 1965 at the time of Dr. Cordes’ death.

Correspondence in the Heed Foundation historical files suggests that there was a personal relationship between the Post family and Thomas Heed. From 1946 to 1957, Mr. Heed was intimately involved in the Foundation’s activities with frequent communication between himself and the Foundation’s Secretary, Hayward Post. He approved the selection of the first Board of Directors and specifically requested that Derrick Vail serve as Chairman and Hayward Post serve as Secretary. He attended many Board meetings and at least one was held in his home. He reviewed and was updated on all fellowship appointments and actually met personally with the first Heed Fellow, John Poore.

In the early years, there was little awareness of the Heed fellowship opportunities and the first fellows were appointed from the Directors own residency programs and the fellowship training was held within the various Director’s departments. The early fellowships were limited in number and consisted of three rotations of two months duration at different institutions. The fellows were mainly observers in surgery and attended the institutional lectures and teaching rounds. The first fellow, Dr. John Poore, had trained at the University of California with Dr. Cordes. He was named the Gradle Fellow in honor of Dr. Gradle. This was a singular honor since the Gradle Fellowship was never again designated. In that same year, Herbert Shields who trained at Washington University in St. Louis with Dr. Post was appointed as the second Heed Fellow. Both fellowships were of six months duration with a monthly stipend of $200 and a small additional grant to cover travel expenses. Dr. Poore spent two months at Northwestern with Dr. Vail, two months at Columbia in New York with Dr. Dunnington and two months at Washington University in St. Louis with Dr. Post. The money to support the fellowships was provided by annual gifts from Thomas Heed and, following his death, from Ruth Heed. The early Board meetings were frequently held at the American Ophthalmological Society meeting in Hot Springs, Virginia and at the annual Academy meeting in Chicago. Mr. Heed attended Board meetings held in Chicago.

In 1957, Mr. Heed died. At that time, the balance in the Heed account was $18,879. Ruth Heed continued to provide annual gifts which totaled $20,000 per year. The monthly stipends had been increased to $350 per month in 1951 and $600 per month in 1958. In 1965, Dr. Frank Newell, chairman of the Ophthalmology department at the University of Chicago, succeeded Dr. Post as the executive secretary and the administrative office was moved from St. Louis to Chicago. In 1965, Dr. Michael Hogan, the Ophthalmology departmental chair at the University of California replaced Dr. Cordes. Ruth Heed died in 1964 and following the probate of Thomas and Ruth Heed’s estates, the Heed Ophthalmic Foundation Trust was funded with a total of approximately $2,000,000.


During the early years, the directors were aware that they had limited funds and were reluctant to advertise the availability of Heed fellowships. By 1967, more people were aware of the Heed Fellowship Program. However, in that same year there were only eleven applications and only three individuals actually completed applications. The directors recognized the importance of broadening the training. They felt this was best accomplished by training at an institution other than the resident’s respective institution. The length of fellowships ranged from six months to one year through the mid-1980s. Subsequently, Heed Fellowships provided support for one year of training. The Heed Foundation Trust Agreement limited the stipend to $5,000 per calendar year. However, the directors were able to increase the stipend to as much as $10,000 per year by using the academic calendar beginning in July and ending in June of the following year.

The stipend fluctuated with the performance of the Heed Foundation portfolio and had a highpoint of $15,000 during the late 1990s. From 2001 to 2006, the Board of Directors established a Clinician-Scientist Heed Fellowship. This fellowship provided $40,000 per year for two years. The goal of this program had been to more predictably ensure that the funded individual would continue their career as a clinician-scientist in academic ophthalmology. Two things happened which caused this program to be terminated. First, the commitment of such large sums of money limited the appointments of one year Heed Fellowships and, secondly, the two-year Clinician-Scientist Fellows were not significantly different in their career choices than the one year Heed Fellows. The last Clinician-Scientist Fellow was appointed in 2005. Overall, approximately 70% of former Heed Fellows have obtained a full time academic appointment as their first post-fellowship position.

There have been two associated Fellowship programs administered by the Heed Foundation. First was the Richard Scobee Fellowship from 1981 to 1989. The Richard Scobee Memorial Fund was established by Mary Francis Scobee Connors to honor her deceased husband, Richard Scobee. The fund was used to grant a Heed Fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology. Dr. Scobee, a pediatric ophthalmologist on the staff at Washington University in St. Louis died at the age of 37. Mary Francis had remarried William Connors who was the Chief Executive Officer of Alcon, an ophthalmic pharmaceutical company in Texas. Scobee had written a text on strabismus and was known as an excellent teacher. He was also editor of the Orthoptic Journal. The Scobee fund was merged with the Heed Ophthalmic Foundation following the death of Mary Francis Connors.

The second associated Fellowship program was the Heed-Knapp Fellowship from 1982 to 1996. The Herman Knapp Testimonial Fund, a fund established by the Section on Ophthalmology in the American Medical Association in 1910 to honor Herman Knapp, provided funding for a second year of fellowship training which the Heed Foundation administered. Each year the Knapp Fund would provide monies which funded fellowships known as Heed-Knapp Fellowships. The stipend varied from $15,000 to $20,000 per year. This fellowship funding was terminated when the Knapp Fund merged with the American Ophthalmological Society in 1997.

In the 1940s through the 1960s, the stipend provided by the Heed Foundation was the only monies received to support the fellow during his or her training. However, by the 1990s, the institutional salaries for residents and fellows provided a significant annual salary and the Heed Fellowship stipend became financially less meaningful. With this in mind, in 2005, the Board of Directors of the Heed Foundation designated the Heed Fellowship grant as a Merit Award with a stipend of $10,000. At that same time, the Board of Directors established policy stating that there could be no reduction in institutional salary, benefits or overhead for the individual receiving this Merit Award. Prior to this policy, some institutions were reducing the fellows’ institutional compensation by the dollar amount provided by the Heed Foundation. This, in effect, meant that none of the Heed Fellowship monies directly benefited the Heed Fellow. This policy was put in place to insure that the Heed Fellowship monies were retained by the fellow without other modifications to their compensation.

In the late 1990s the original Heed Trust Agreement was modified. The three orders coming from the modification of the Trust Agreement provided for a fellowship grant of up to $40,000 per academic year; indexing of the amount of the stipend at five-year intervals based on the consumer price index and fellowship grants were to be made for an academic year rather than a calendar year.

The original Trust Agreement named the First National Bank of Chicago as the trustee bank. If there was a successor bank through merger, consolidation or reorganization, that bank would have its office in Chicago. In 2004, Bank One, a successor bank through merger, resigned as Trustee. The Private Bank of Chicago was named the new trustee bank.

In 2005, the Heed Foundation Board of Directors established a program known as the Resident Retreat. The purpose of the Retreat was to acquaint talented residents with the opportunities for a career in academic medicine. The Retreat brought together current university faculty with residents selected from programs around the country. During the informal sessions, residents are able to mingle with academic ophthalmologists and learn how young faculty members make the transition from trainee to clinician-scientist faculty.

The Retreat rapidly became very popular and The American Ophthalmological Society (AOS) became a co-sponsor in 2012 and Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) became a co-sponsor in 2014. Post-Retreat surveys have shown that 70% of the resident attendees have an academic position as their first job.

A complete roster of Heed Fellows may be found on the Heed Ophthalmic Foundation web site, www.heed.org.

Heed Ophthalmic Foundation Directors

Frederick Cordes 1946-1964
John Dunnington 1946-1966
R. Townley Paton 1946-1966
M. Hayward Post 1946-1966
Derrick Vail 1946-1965
Michael Hogan 1965-1975
Arthur DeVoe 1967-1975
Samuel McPherson, Jr. 1967-1985
Frank Newell 1967-1993
David Shoch 1967-1990
Charles Campbell 1975-1989
Claes Dohlman 1975-1989
Froncie Gutman 1983-2001
Bradley Straatsma 1984-1998
Lee Jampol 1990-2007
Stephen Kramer 1991-2002
Stuart Fine 1992-2009
Morton Goldberg 1999-2004
Paul Lichter 2002-2011
Michael Kass 2003-2012
Stanley Chang 2005-2011
David Wilson 2008-2017
Steve McLeod 2010-2019
Eduardo Alfonso 2012-2021
Joan Miller 2012-2021
Nicholas Volpe 2013-Present
Julia Haller 2018-Present
George ‘Jack’ Cioffi 2020-Present
Todd Margolis 2021-Present
Terri Young 2021-Present
Bennie Jeng 2023-Present

Heed Ophthalmic Foundation, Executive Secretaries

M. Hayward Post


Frank Newell


David Shoch


Froncie Gutman


David Wilson