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About F.C. Blodi

F.C. Blodi, MD (1917-1996)

F.C. Blodi, seated, holding bookFrederick C. Blodi was born in Vienna, Austria, on January 11, 1917. He received his M.D. from the University of Vienna, School of Medicine in 1940 and spent the war years as an intern and resident in pathology in various Viennese hospitals before completing a residency in ophthalmology at the First Ophthalmology Clinic of the University of Vienna.

How did Fred Blodi, born in 1917 in Vienna, Austria, end up in Iowa City? It is a story of the 1940s and is therefore complicated by World War II. Fred was raised in the village of Modling on the outskirts of Vienna. In 1939, in his last year of medical school, Fred became engaged to a young woman from Modling name Ottilie. Otty's father had American citizenship, so with the Germans on their doorstep, the family emigrated to America, and Otty went with them. That fall, the Germans arrived, and all medical students were drafted into the German army. Fred was allowed to complete his degree in 1940, and train in ophthalmology under Josef Meller and Josef Bock before entering the army as a medical officer. Towards the end of the war, Fred was helpful to some young Austrians who were contemplating an act of passive resistance to avoid serving in the German army. Fred was courtmartialed by the Germans and received an eight-year prison sentence. In the remaining months of the war, he was moved from one prison to another.  Otty, in America, had not heard from him. She joined the WAC's, was assigned to Europe and she set about trying to find him. Meanwhile, Fred had been released from a prison in northern Austria and found his way back to Vienna. There, he and Otty found each other and they were married in 1946. In 1947, Fred came to America as a "war bride".

Supported by a stipend from the World Health Organization, he became a fellow with Algernon Reese at Columbia in New York City. There his locker, alphabetically assigned, was next to that of Alson E. Braley, and Blodi was impressed with Braley's generosity, affability, and openness. Something about Blodi must have also impressed Braley, because a few years later, as the new head of ophthalmology at Iowa, Braley invited him to join the faculty as an ophthalmic pathologist.

In Iowa City, Fred and Otty raised two children, Chris and Barbara, who both became ophthalmologists.

Fred Blodi became an associate professor in 1961, professor in 1965, and head of the department in 1967. During the years of Dr. Blodi's leadership (1967-1984), the Department of Ophthalmology's reputation was enhanced as one of the very best places in the world to learn ophthalmology. Dr. Blodi has been the ideal academic physician. He was a scholar - a recognized expert in ophthalmic pathology, a skilled diagnostician and an accomplished surgeon, an administrator whose decision-making seems effortless, a devoted and thoughtful editor, and an indefatigable translator of medical books - but above all he was a teacher. As his former students will remember, he loved to teach!

He bubbled over with humor, but never strayed from the point of his lecture. he liked to show a few slides at the end of a talk; this sent a signal to the student, "We're almost finished, this is the summary, pay attention." The student left the lecture wide awake and pleased with the fresh pearls in the pocket. During Dr. Blodi's tenure as professor and head of the Department of Ophthalmology, more than 120 residents and 160 fellows were trained. An unusually large number have chosen academic careers.

Blodi was enormously energetic, always taking on new tasks and new responsibilities. He liked to brighten the mood with an amusing remark or a cheerful rejoinder. He was slow to take offence, preferring to say - with a smile, "Ve-er-ry funny!" As head of the department, he kept his desk cleared by addressing a problem only once, making a decision and sending on the paperwork. His memory was very quick, and he did most of his faculty administrative work in the hallway: he would see a faculty member coming and remember instantly the last three items they had been discussing together and all the ramifications of each problem. In less than a minute, he would comment on these issues, and turn the corner to talk to someone else. Faculty meetings were short.

Fred and Otty, New York City, circa 1940Once Blodi began to apply his cheerful and effective collegiality to the AAO, the AOS and the ABO, new jobs and new honors and recognition came to him in abundance. He was the first foreign-trained ophthalmologist to become a director of the American Board of Ophthalmology, and was its chairman in 1975. He was president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in 1979, and president of the Association of University Professors in Ophthalmology in 1982. The American Ophthalmological Society awarded him their Lucien Howe Medal in 1980, and elected him president in 1991; in 1995 they named him an "Honorary Member." I'm sure this modest sounding title pleased him a lot, because he recognized it as the society's strongest expression of affection and appreciation. In the 130-year history of the AOS, America's oldest medical specialty society, only two other people have been given all three of these honors: Arnold Knapp and Frederick Verhoeff. Oh yes, and he was the editor of the Archives of Ophthalmology for a decade in the 70s and 80s.

Dr. Fred Blodi died of a second stroke on October 30, 1996, while many of his colleagues were attending the annual Academy of Ophthalmology meeting in Chicago. Very few of our current residents had the chance to get to know him because the aphasia and hemiplegia of his 1993 stroke prevented him from coming to our morning rounds.

Fred Blodi was in the department for 45 years, and I knew him for 35 of those years. His warmth and energy set the tone of the place. The graceful enthusiasm he brought to his teaching made his faculty work hard to become better teachers. He expected each of us to make a mark in our own subspecialty, and he knew that this required time to read, write and travel so we could hear what was new and could be seen by others in our field. Somehow we were never asked to see more patients and bring in more money, and there always seemed to be an extra hour in the afternoon during which we could have coffee with a resident or fellow and draw graphs on paper napkins in an effort to push our projects forward.

For years, Dr. Blodi worked tirelessly and brilliantly for his specialty in all parts of the world and especially for his adopted country and state. We in Iowa were very proud of him and his accomplishments and will honor his memory for a long, long time.

H. Stanley Thompson, M.D. 
December, 1996