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Obituary: Robert C. Drews, emeritus professor, trustee, 86

Ophthalmologist had lifelong association with university as student, teacher, benefactor, trustee

May 16, 2017

Robert C. Drews, MD, a professor emeritus of clinical ophthalmology, died May 9, 2017, at his home in St. Louis, following a stroke. He was 86.

Drews was an ophthalmologist, photographer, inventor of numerous medical instruments for the eye, and former member of the Washington University Board of Trustees. He had a lifelong connection to the university, graduating from the College of Arts & Sciences in 1951 and the School of Medicine in 1955.

The long association between Drews and the university included his residency in ophthalmology from 1956 to 1959, during which he served as chief resident in 1958-59. After residency, he had a two-year stint in the Navy, serving at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Great Lakes, before returning to St. Louis to go into private practice and teach in the Department of Ophthalmology.

“Bob Drews had a deep and longstanding relationship with Washington University that made a profound impact on our students, faculty and the greater university community,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “His lifelong commitment helped Washington University to grow and thrive in ways that would not have been possible without his generosity and leadership.”

Drews and his late wife, Lorene Drews, were key benefactors of the university, endowing the Dr. and Mrs. Robert C. Drews Scholarship to support students at the School of Medicine, as well as the Robert C. Drews Distinguished Professorship in Ophthalmology. They also were benefactors of numerous cultural institutions in St. Louis.

Robert C. Drews was a member of Washington University’s Board of Trustees from 1988 to 1992. He also chaired the university’s Alumni Board of Governors, the Medical Alumni Annual Fund and other giving programs, and he remained involved with the university in many capacities throughout his life, serving on the National Council for the School of Medicine, Planned Giving Committee, School of Medicine Scholarship Initiative and the Eliot Society.

He authored more than 500 journal articles, book chapters and books, and he served as editor or as an editorial board member of several leading ophthalmology journals. He also was an accomplished photographer whose ophthalmologic slides and videotaped surgical procedures are regarded as valuable teaching and research resources.

“His expertise in lens implantation and cataract surgery gained him international recognition and numerous invitations to teach advanced ophthalmic micro-surgical techniques all over the world,” said Todd P. Margolis, MD, PhD, the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor and head of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “He also helped pioneer the use of electronic medical records in the practice of ophthalmology.”

Drews received numerous honors from groups around the world, including the Gold Medal of the Pan American Association of Ophthalmology; the Montgomery Medal of the Irish Ophthalmological Society; the Rayner Medal of the United Kingdom Cataract and Refractive Surgery Society; and the Medaglia d’Oro of the Societa Oftalmologica Italiana. He also was recipient of Washington University’s Distinguished Alumni Award and the School of Medicine’s Second Century Award.

Drews taught and mentored ophthalmology students at the School of Medicine for almost 50 years and also served as chief of the ophthalmology section at Bethesda General Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital, as well as supervising ophthalmologist for the Missouri Division of Welfare.

He is survived by his daughters Pamela Breitberg (Steven), Belinda Laupp and Jeanmarie Mertens (John); son, Carl Drews (Deborah); 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Drews donated his body to the School of Medicine. A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, May 27, at the Village Lutheran Church, 9237 Clayton Road, Ladue, Mo.

Memorial contributions may be made to the St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired, or Bethesda Health Group.