Obituary: Sir Stephen Miller
Wednesday 01 May 1996
He entered ophthalmology almost by accident, after failing to get the house job of his choice at Aberdeen. Appointed a house surgeon at the Royal Infirmary, Hull, in 1937, he was introduced to ophthalmology, and served in the RNVR during the Second World War as an ophthalmic specialist.
After the war he was encouraged by his fellow Scotsman Sir Stewart Duke Elder, the country's foremost ophthalmologist, to come south. Within a few years of training at Moorfields Eye Hospital he was on the consultant staff of three major hospitals - St George's Hospital, the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, and Moorfields itself.
Miller always advised his trainees to "cone down" on a subject, i.e. to focus on a single problem, and he chose to do so himself in his lifelong quest to understand and treat glaucoma and in neuro-ophthalmology. In the 1960s he was one of the first ophthalmologists in the country to see the potential of fluorescein angiography, a method of studying the retinal circulation by the injection of fluorescein dye. This innovation, pioneered in the United States, had previously been ignored by the ophthalmology establishment. Miller set up the first unit to conduct the technique at the National Hospital, Queen Square. This single act launched the career of some of the most distinguished ophthalmologists in the United Kingdom and led to the formation of a specialist department which has remained pre-eminent.
Another important factor in the development of fluorescein angiography was the use of private donations - in particular, his friend and patient Tommy Frost gave money. The Frost Foundation continues to be a major source of research and training grants for ophthalmology trainees.
In the last few years, Miller's enthusiasm, vision and integrity enabled him to persuade Guide Dogs for the Blind to become a benefactor for ophthalmic research programmes, and his personal friendship with King Hussein of Jordan led to the establishment of a Fellowship at St John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem.
St John's occupied much of Miller's time, especially in his so-called retirement. He tirelessly raised money for this institution (some pounds 7m in total), which he saw as providing a greatly needed service for the patients and a unique opportunity for trainees from all parts of the world.
Miller had a special gift for writing. His personal letters were masterpieces of clarity, wit and kindness, and he put this talent to use in the many scientific publications he wrote for and in books such as Modern Trends in Ophthalmology (1973) and Parsons' Diseases of the Eye (16th edition, 1978, to 18th edition, 1990). He became Editor of the British Journal of Ophthalmology in 1973.
He derived much pleasure from being Master of the Oxford Ophthalmological Congress in 1969-70 and gave a superb lecture on glaucoma for which he was awarded the Doyne Medal of the Congress in 1972.
In addition he was Surgeon-Oculist to the Queen from 1974 to 1980, and was created KCVO in 1979.
For him to participate in so many activities Miller relied on a secure and happy home life. His wife supported him in his busy career and nursed him in his final illness, which he endured with great dignity and not a little rage. This difficult time was relieved by seeing one of his sons appointed to Moorfields Eye Hospital, continuing his interest in glaucoma, while another son was installed as a QC.
Miller remained attached to his native Scotland and he was an enthusiastic golfer and fisherman; he was also an excellent pianist and an exceptional bridge player. Although he did not paint himself, he had a beautiful collection of watercolours by Scottish artists.
Patrick J. Holmes Sellors
Stephen James Hamilton Miller, ophthalmologist: born Arbroath 19 July 1915; Surgeon, Moorfields Eye Hospital 1954-80; Ophthalmic Surgeon, St George's Hospital 1951-80, National Hospital 1955-78, King Edward VII Hospital for Officers 1965-80; Surgeon-Oculist to HM Household 1965-74, to the Queen 1974-80; KCVO 1979; Hospitaller, St John Ophthalmic Hospital, Jerusalem 1980-90; married 1949 Heather Motion (three sons); died Woking, Surrey 12 April 1996.
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