Eric Borsting, OD, MSEd, FAAO
Graham Erickson, OD, FAAO
Born in Alabama, Dr. Griffin was one of several members of his family to practice Optometry. His father, a jeweler, performed optical services while he employed traveling optometrists to perform examinations and prescribe glasses. John’s uncle, brother and three nephews also enjoyed success in the field. Following a year at San Diego State College, Dr. Griffin transferred to the University of California Berkeley where he received his Bachelor of Science. John completed his optometric training and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1958. Not long after graduation John went to work in Washington DC for four years as a US army officer, followed by one year with the Department of Health. During this time one of his duties was to serve as an epidemiologist gathering data to ascertain information about the genetics of various medical conditions. This experience was undoubtedly a factor in the publishing of John’s textbook on genetics. After his stay in Washington, DC he moved back to California and eventually became a faculty member at the Southern California College of Optometry. During his illustrious 32 year career at the college he served in a number of professional capacities. To name a few he was Chief of Ocular Disease, Chief of Vision Therapy, and President of the Faculty Council at SCCO. He was also very involved in the American Academy of Optometry and was one of the founding members of the Diplomate program for the Binocular Vision and Perception Section of the American Academy of Optometry. Over the years he presented countless hours of continuing education at optometric and other professional meetings in America and internationally. He lectured on ocular disease, genetics, vision therapy, binocular vision, and other topics such as motorist’s vision and signage.
Dr. Griffin was one of the leading optometric scholars of his time and the breadth and depth of his work was truly remarkable. John authored at least 5 different major text books, any one of which would have been a good career for most. They included what has been referred to as the “bible” of vision therapy, Binocular Anomalies. At a time when the field of vision therapy for binocular anomalies, strabismus and amblyopia, and visual-related learning problems was in need of a well-researched, referenced and scientifically validating foundation, Binocular Anomalies was the text that began the transformational process leading the field of vision therapy into the mainstream of health care. John participated in writing multiple editions of the book Binocular Anomalies. In the foreword for the fourth edition, in 2002, Ken Ciuffreda, O.D., Ph.D. summed it up best when he stated: “To the best of my knowledge, this is the most complete and encyclopedic treatise on vision therapy ever produced, incorporating an appropriate blending of clinical knowledge and training protocol with substantial theoretical bases to satisfy one’s intellectual cravings."
In the late 1970s Drs. John Griffin and Howard Walton were working in the Optometric Center of Fullerton with Elena Boder, M.D. This collaboration led to the first published direct diagnostic test for dyslexia as John and Howard published the Dyslexia Determination Test (DDT) in 1981. Not long after this, John published a report which clarified the question of genetics in dyslexia. He explained that one of the three main types of dyslexia, dyseidesia, followed autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance. These major contributions, development of the DDT and the genetics revelation, form a sound scientific basis for multidisciplinary management of the main types of dyslexia. Continuing his research and writing along these lines of inquiry led John to co-author with Helene Fatt, Ph.D. the text Genetics for Primary Eye Care Providers in 1983. This eloquent text remains a classic foundation for understanding the clinical principles of genetics in the gamut of vision conditions encountered by the eye care practitioner. John’s incredible career as an optometric author also included collaborative efforts which resulted in a book on case studies in visual field defects, several editions of the Dictionary of Visual Science, and Optometric Management of Reading Dysfunction in 1997. He also recently published, in addition to his 140 plus refereed journal articles, the book Helping Children Overcome Dyslexic Reading and Spelling Problems (a guidebook for parents, teachers and other allied health care professionals) in 2013. This is just hitting the high points of John’s many contributions to the literature as he had several other literary contributions including many that were outside of the optometric area of emphasis.
John lived life to the fullest at work and away from work. He was an avid runner, participating in many marathons over the course of his life well into his late 50s. John had an exuberant passion for the outdoors. He had a rustic cabin up where the high desert of the Mojave transitions to the pine forest of the eastern side of the San Gabriel mountains. There were few places he would rather be than up at that cabin. He was fond of bringing friends and colleagues to the cabin, which often involved some hiking, a little cabin maintenance, dinners cooked over mesquite wood fires, and evenings filled with stories and song. The cabin also served as a wellspring of creative inspiration for writing and other scholarly pursuits. For many of us, our memories of John will have his desert cabin as a backdrop. Those of us who had the extreme pleasure of backpacking with him got to share in his love of the outdoors in his beloved high Sierra Mountains along the Muir trail. For many years, John made an annual trip to the mountains usually for about a week. He liked to recollect that after one long backpacking trip, the world had changed when he got back to the flat land. On that occasion, after he came out of the mountains, he turned on the radio and learned that we had a new president named Ford. That was in the mid-1970s!
John was a talented musician who played guitar to delight of so many throughout his entire life. On one backpacking trip to the Gila wilderness in New Mexico, we got caught in a traffic jam caused by road construction. During the 90 minute delay people got out of their cars and were just stretching and getting some air by the side of the road. Pretty soon John had that guitar out and we were singing, “It is a darn good life, and it is kind of funny, how the lord made the bee and the bee made the honey, and the honey bee looking for a home, and they called it honey comb, well honey comb won’t you be my baby…” In a matter of minutes we had between nearly 30 people around John’s jeep singing Honey Comb and numerous other songs as the 90 minutes flew by and we parted with our new acquaintances sharing hugs and handshakes all around wishing each well as if we were long-lost, life-long friends. That was John Griffin and he did it over and again from entertaining spontaneously, to playing for folks at nursing homes, to performing for kids and young adults with special needs to playing and singing a medley of songs by popular demand in various hotel suites around the country at the Binocular Vision Reception of the Optometric Academy Meetings. The last one became a tradition in the 80s and 90s.
In closing, John was a gentle giant in our profession. Although he possessed a tremendous intellect and produced a mountain of contributions to the profession, perhaps his greatest quality was his ability to elevate those with whom he worked, whether they were students, residents, fellow faculty or colleagues. His kindness, sense of humor, zest for life and generosity are the endearing qualities that are the hallmarks which we will long remember. His writings have elevated our profession in so many ways just as he elevated each one of us who were lucky to learn from and with him. And so we have lost a colleague, mentor, a hero, and an inspirational friend. It is sad and profound and difficult to capsulate the entirety of it all. But the one thing that remains easy to relate is the incredible gift of genius, friendship, humility and love that John R. Griffin was to his friends, family and profession.
Dr. Griffin is survived by his spouse, Kirsten Griffin, Granddaughter Amber Thrasher, Brother Vince (Karen) Griffin, Daughter Angela Griffin Ankhelyi, Son in Law Mickey Ankhelyi, Granddaughter Madeleine Ankhelyi, Grandsons Maclean and Henry Ankhelyi, Step Daughter Lisa Chouchan, Step Son Scott (Sherry) Frederick, and Grandson Troy Frederick, Step Daughter Colleen Hime, Granddaughters Meghann Risvold and Hannah Risvold, Step Son Sean Hime and Grandson Sean Michael Hime.
In lieu of flowers, the family would like to encourage contributions be made to establish the “Dr. John R. Griffin Scholarship.” Gifts may be directed to Marshall B. Ketchum University, 2575 Yorba Linda Blvd., Fullerton (www.ketchum.edu)