David G. Cogan, MD (February 14, 1908 - September 9, 1993)

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David G. Cogan, MD
Former Director of Ophthalmology
National Eye Institute
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland

I was introduced to David Glendenning Cogan, M.D. in 1979 by Richard Sogg, M.D., my first mentor in Neuro-Ophthalmology. To convey the greatness of Dr. Cogan is a daunting task, but he will be remembered for his compassion, humility, and his subtle guidance and encouragement. When a student expressed an opinion with which Dr. Cogan disagreed, his response was a quizzical "Don't you think that...?" He was never pedantic or arrogant; he stimulated and inspired us, and we grew to love him. Dr. Cogan came to Stanford as a guest-lecturer, and we developed an instant rapport, especially when he learned that I was a classical pianist. Dr. Cogan renewed his study of the piano at the age of 72. I joined Dr. Cogan at the National Eye Institute in 1980, following in the footsteps of many esteemed ophthalmologists and neurologists, including J. Lawton Smith, Shirley Wray, Fred Chu, John Gittinger, Robert Reinecke, Robert Yee, Carl Kupfer, and Herbert Kaufman. Dr. Cogan lived during one of the most exciting and creative eras in ophthalmology, and he was interested in every aspect of the field, exemplified by the eponyms Cogan's Plaque, Cogan-Reese Syndrome, Cogan's Syndrome of Interstitial Keratitis with Vestibuloauditory Symptoms, and Cogan's Lid-Twitch Sign. He brought Toichiro Kuwabara, M.D., from Japan and together they made seminal contributions to ophthalmic pathology. Collaborating with Dr. David Donaldson, he produced the finest external photographs of the eye. With Dr. Jin Kinoshita, he elucidated the diabetic effects on the lens and retinal vasculature. In 1950, as a member of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission of the Atomic Energy Commission, he travelled to Hiroshima, Japan to study radiation-induced cataracts.

Perhaps one of the greatest tributes to Dr. Cogan is the fact that two of his books, Neurology of the Ocular Muscles, 1948, and Neurology of the Visual System, 1966, are, even today, required reading for ophthalmology residents. He was the Director of the Howe Laboratory at Harvard Medical School from 1943-1973, Chief Editor of the Archives of Ophthalmology from 1960-1966, a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of Research to Prevent Blindness, Chairman of the Trustees of the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology in 1968, and the list goes on and on. After the war, he became a founding member of the Ophthalmic Pathology Club, now known as the Verhoeff-Zimmerman Society. In 1973, Dr. Cogan joined the staff of the National Eye Institute as Chief of the Neuro-Ophthalmic Section.. Dr. Cogan directed Grand Rounds at the National Eye Institute every Friday morning; and we attended Lorenz Zimmerman's weekly Ophthalmic Pathology conferences at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. Early Saturday morning breakfasts at the Cogan's home in Chevy Chase were followed by the monthly Alper Neuro-Ophthalmology Conferences at Washington Hospital Center. In 1988, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology established The Cogan Award, given annually to a young researcher who has made significant contributions to vision science. In 1988, he founded what is now known as the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society ( He authored or co-authored over 500 scientific articles, and his last book History of the Howe Laboratory, was published in 1993, just 5 days after his death.

Dr. Cogan was born on February 14, 1908, in Fall River, Massachusetts. He was the son of an Episcopalian minister and an ophthalmologist mother. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth, his M.D. from Harvard, interned at Chicago University Clinics, and completed an ophthalmology residency at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, where he met his first mentor in ophthalmology, Frederick Herman Verhoeff, M.D. His sister, Mary C. Bromage, a Professor of Writing at the University of Michigan, frequently corrected the grammar and diction in his early articles. His wife Frances ("Did") Capps Cogan, was a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Medical School, and did research on microwave ocular damage and electron microscopy, although she never practiced medicine. They had four daughters, 2 of whom died nearly 20 years apart from similar automotive accidents. Although the Cogans had only daughters, many of us became their adopted children. An excellent biography and bibliography is available in Ophthalmology Oral History Series. A Link with our Past. An Interview with David Glendenning Cogan, M.D., Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, San Francisco, 1989, ISBN 0-926866-05-2.

David M. Bachman, M.D.
21 March 2005
Washington, D.C.