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Research to Prevent Blindness

In Memoriam: David F. Weeks

Research to Prevent Blindness sadly acknowledges the passing of Chairman Emeritus David F. Weeks at the age of 94. Mr. Weeks served as an executive of Research to Prevent Blindness for 50 years, working with passion to fulfill RPB’s mission from its inception. He was employed as RPB's first executive officer in 1961 and stayed with the organization until he stepped down in 2011, as Chairman and CEO. During his long tenure, RPB significantly increased its grant-making activities, enhanced the capabilities of the vision research community and contributed to the development of nearly every significant advance in eye care in the last half century. During RPB’s early years, Mr. Weeks and RPB Founder and Chairman Jules Stein mounted an 8-year campaign to establish the National Eye Institute as a separate entity within the National Institutes of Health. As part of that effort, RPB polled Americans about health concerns, revealing fear of blindness as second only to fear of cancer, and conducted the first comprehensive survey ever undertaken of the status of eye research in this country.

Mr. Weeks led the initiative to channel government support directly to eye research, challenging resistance from forces within the Johnson Administration and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) itself. He authored the bill that ultimately resulted in the creation of the National Eye Institute (NEI) within the NIH in 1968. 

David Weeks (right), RPB Chair Diane Swift (middle) and then-Director of the National Eye Institute Dr. Paul Sieving attend RPB's 50th anniversary reception. 

Mr. Weeks also implemented all facets of RPB's “assault” on blindness, a comprehensive program that included the creation of strategically located eye research institutes at medical schools across the country. RPB grants were made available only to departments of ophthalmology, creating a powerful incentive for medical schools to elevate ophthalmology from divisional status within departments of surgery or medicine to departmental status. Additionally, RPB’s provision of "seed money grants" made it possible for vision scientists to pursue and develop concepts that challenged existing doctrine, allowing them to go on to secure major funding from the government and other sources.

RPB Board Chair Diane Swift stated: “David Weeks was a titan in the vision science field and the entire field owes a debt of gratitude to him for his strategic and tireless work to establish the National Eye Institute, working hand in glove with RPB founder Jules Stein.”

In 2017, six years after his retirement from RPB, the RPB David F. Weeks Award for Outstanding Vision Research was established by RPB, an anonymous donor and the Association of University Professors in Ophthalmology (AUPO), to annually recognize and celebrate an excellent researcher who is driving sight-saving research with their work. The award carries the name of Mr. Weeks in honor of his contributions to the field of vision science.  The award provides $50,000, payable to the recipient directly and to be used at his or her discretion.  The award continues today.

RPB President Brian F. Hofland, PhD, commented that: “The passing of Mr. Weeks marks the end of an era for RPB and he will be greatly missed.  He cared deeply about RPB until the end of his life and followed our progress with great interest.”

Mr. Weeks was an honorary member of the Association for Research In Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) and the AUPO. He served on the National Advisory Eye Council of the NIH and on the Ophthalmic Device Committee of the Department of Health and Human Services in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Mr. Weeks, a proud Eagle Scout, served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946, and graduated from the University of Idaho in 1949.  After graduation from college, Mr. Weeks worked briefly as an announcer at a Burley, Idaho radio station. He then joined the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis as Idaho state representative and was transferred to that organization’s headquarters in New York City in 1953 as assistant national director of the March of Dimes.

Most recently, Mr. Weeks lived in Fairfield, California.  He is survived by his sons David and Clay and several grandchildren. 

Memorial gifts can be made to RPB to carry on Mr. Weeks’ sight-saving work. Visit the RPB donation webpage or call the office at 800-621-0026.

 

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