Casey founder selected for 2016 OHSU School of Medicine Dean’s Award

Dr. Fritz FraunfelderFrederick "Fritz" T. Fraunfelder, M.D. '60 R '67, has been named the 2016 recipient of the OHSU School of Medicine Dean's Award. Among the school's highest honors, this award is given by the dean in recognition of an individual who has shown commitment to the OHSU School of Medicine through their volunteerism, teaching and/or philanthropic support. Prior to his accident and untimely death, Dean Emeritus Mark Richardson (1949-2016) named Dr. Fraunfelder this year's recipient.

For 38 years and counting, Dr. Fritz Fraunfelder has served as a distinguished faculty member at OHSU. Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology from 1978 to 1997, he maintains an office at Casey Eye Institute – the renowned eye center that he founded 25 years ago.

Several days a week, the professor emeritus of ophthalmology arrives on campus to direct the National Registry of Drug-Induced Ocular Side Effects, a database that he helped establish. He continues to specialize in ocular oncology and pursue research on drug-induced ocular side effects. Dr. Fraunfelder is author or co-author of 14 medical textbooks and more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

Over his long and illustrious career, he's become known for a number of things. Fierce Casey advocate. Successful fundraiser. Tough leader. Two books: "Current Ocular Therapy" and "Retire Right." Family man. And lots and lots of jokes.

"I love a good joke," said Dr. Fraunfelder. "And boy, that's gotten me into trouble sometimes."

Oregon beckoned

Dr. Fraunfelder earned his medical degree from University of Oregon Medical School (OHSU's precursor) in 1960. He completed his internship at University of Chicago in 1961, his residency at UOMS in 1966 and a fellowship at Johns Hopkins University in 1967.

Right out of his fellowship, he accepted a position as chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Arkansas Medical School. At the time, he says he was the youngest chair in the history of American ophthalmology. For 10 years, he guided the department on improving quality of care and training high-quality residents.

"I loved it," he recalled. "One of my greatest achievements is improving eye health in the state of Arkansas when I was there," he said. 

But Oregon and OHSU beckoned. He accepted the chair position in 1978. Over the next few years, Dr. Fraunfelder concentrated on building out the sub-specialties of the ophthalmology faculty. Yet he realized that in order for the department to grow and innovate, it would need its own building.

He partnered with a foundation called Research To Prevent Blindness, which was looking to build regional eye research institute. 

He then led a feasibility study and launched into five years of almost full-time, private fundraising. 

"It was a traumatic period in my life to put Casey together," he said. Among the difficulties was cutting back on his clinical work and salary in order to fundraise.

When Casey Eye Institute opened its doors in 1991, it was the first (and only) building on campus built entirely with private philanthropy. The new building launched a period of tremendous growth for the institute, where it has achieved national recognition in eye care, education, research and community outreach.

"Casey has been more successful than even my fondest dreams," said Dr. Fraunfelder. 

"Never in doubt"

Sigrid Button, department administrator at Casey, worked for Dr. Fraunfelder for 18 years. The staff always remembered him for his flying white coattails as he zoomed around the office.

"Fritz is a chess player," explained Button. "He is very forward-thinking. As chair, he was always strategizing ahead of time."

His leadership style had the same intensity. "I was respected but not loved by my faculty," said Dr. Fraunfelder. "I was very hard on myself. Every month or so I'd throw myself up on the wall and criticize myself on how I could be better. I held myself to a high standard, and I expected my faculty to do the same. I'm sure they felt I was too hard on them. In fairness, in my 19 years as chairman, I only lost two faculty members. I made sure my faculty had an environment in which they could grow."

In hallways and meetings, Dr. Fraunfelder could be heard quoting his favorite motto: "Seldom right but never in doubt." 

As department chair, he recruited a young Joe Robertson, M.D. R '82, M.B.A. – now OHSU's current president – and David Wilson, M.D. R '85, the department's current chair.

"I think it is tremendously fitting that Dr. Fraunfelder is receiving the Dean's Award," said Dr. Robertson. "Fritz passionately pursued and succeeded in all aspects of our tripartite mission. I can't imagine him anywhere but a university setting. Being an educator pervaded everything he did. As a young faculty member, Fritz always provided me with professional development opportunities, and always supported my efforts. He was more than a teacher to me. He was a mentor."

Dr. Wilson trained under Dr. Fraunfelder as a resident. "He was a good observer," recalled Dr. Wilson. "He had these clinical pearls and depth of understanding of diseases that he used very effectively in practice. Fritz was always willing to acknowledge uncertainty in a diagnosis. He was very straightforward and honest with patients." 

Family man

Outside work, Dr. Fraunfelder is known for his love of family. Tim Goldfarb, interim CEO of OHSU Healthcare, was a neighbor of Dr. Fraunfelder for many years. "Every night, our young daughters would wait in the window for Fritz to drive past our house after work. He would see them, stop the car, talk to them and hand them a dollar. Almost every time. They called him Uncle Fritzy. He would take time after a long day to spend time with my children. He's a wonderful human being." 

Dr. Fraunfelder is immensely proud that one of his own children, Rick Fraunfelder, M.D. '94 M.B.A. '12, followed in his footsteps. The younger Dr. Fraunfelder is chair of ophthalmology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine. 

Around Portland, the elder Dr. Fraunfelder continues to advocate for OHSU in the community, helping raise philanthropic support for faculty endowments. 

Yet for many at OHSU, the founding of Casey Eye Institute remains Dr. Fraunfelder's signature contribution to the university. "Fritz had a tremendous impact on the rest of us by opening our eyes to what we could do," said Goldfarb. "We realized, 'If Fritz can do it, we can do it.'"