Barry Wayne Uhr, MD: a conversation with the editor
Barry Wayne Uhr, MD, and William Clifford Roberts, MD
arry Uhr (Figure 1) was born on the present-day “Tube Chute” on the Comal River. It was a
March 29, 1939, in New Braun- laid-back community. Many deals were made at the bank on a
fels, Texas, and that is where he handshake. People trusted one another. I thought that was the
grew up. He graduated from the way the world worked. It was an idyllic childhood. Parents were
University of Texas at Austin in 1961 very interested in their children’s education. New Braunfels was
and from the University of Texas South- the birthplace of free public education in Texas. A monument in
western Medical School at Dallas in town marks the site of the first public school (1845). Everyone
1965. His internship in internal medi- in town was tuned into learning, values, and morals.
cine was at the Baltimore City Hospi- My mother was born in New Braunfels. Her father was the
tals in Baltimore, Maryland, from 1965 Figure 1. Dr. Barry Uhr at pharmacist and owner of Richter’s Pharmacy on the town plaza.
to 1966. He then entered the US Air the interview. My father was born on a farm outside San Antonio in Bexar
Force as a general medical officer, where County. He went to Texas A&M, graduating in 1933 as an elec-
he also served as the base’s psychiatrist until 1968, when he trical engineer. He was in the military during World War II and
moved to Philadelphia as a resident in ophthalmology at the was stationed in Fort Worth for most of the war. As a member
University of Pennsylvania. He returned to Dallas in 1971 to of the US Army Signal Corps, he set up many communication
enter private practice. Since 1973, his practice has been on the systems at Texas bases and was involved in communications
campus of Baylor University Medical Center (BUMC), and he that had to do with the cryptography information that came
has been a very important mem-
ber of the BUMC medical staff.
He has been president of the
Texas Ophthalmological Asso-
ciation, the Dallas Academy of
Ophthalmology, and the Dal-
las County Medical Society. He
and his lovely wife, Karen, are
the proud parents of three suc-
cessful offspring. Both of them
have been active in various com-
munity activities. Both are won-
a b c
derful people, lifelong learners,
and fun to be around. Figure 2. Growing up in New Braunfels, Texas. (a) With mother, Margaret Richter Uhr. (b) At age 6 months with father,
William Clifford Roberts, Robert J. Uhr. (c) At age 6.
MD (hereafter, Roberts): Dr.
Uhr, I appreciate your willingness to talk to me and therefore to the in from all over the world. After the war he went to work for
readers of BUMC Proceedings. To start, could you describe some United Gas Corporation in New Braunfels, first as an engineer
of your earlier memories—your parents and siblings and what it and then as a manager. I have a younger sister, Bonnie Denson.
was like growing up in New Braunfels, Texas? We had a very good relationship. She went to the University
Barry Wayne Uhr, MD (hereafter, Uhr [pronounced
like “mature”]): I was born and grew up in New Braunfels, From the Department of Ophthalmology (Uhr) and the Baylor Heart and Vascular
Texas, a small clean town of German ancestry and a paradise Institute (Roberts), Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas, Texas.
on earth (Figure 2). We had the Comal River and the Landa Corresponding author: Barry W. Uhr, MD, 3600 Gaston Avenue, Barnett Tower,
Park swimming pool. I grew up in a house three blocks from Suite 609, Dallas, Texas 75246 (e-mail: email@example.com).
42 Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent) 2009;22(1):42–54
of Texas. She now lives in Plano with her husband, as does her Roberts: What was your mother like?
daughter, Denise, and her family. Uhr: My mother was a 63-inch ball of energy. She was
Roberts: How big was New Braunfels when you were grow- always doing things. She was an excellent bridge player. If she
ing up? heard that acquaintances were sick, even if she barely knew
Uhr: About 12,000. them, she would cook up a pot of food and take it over to their
Roberts: How far is it from San Antonio and Austin? house. She visited those in the hospital. She was very kind,
Uhr: It is 30 miles north of San Antonio and 50 miles south loving, and supportive. Like any good mother, she pushed her
of Austin. All three cities are on Interstate 35. In those days it children to perform. It was never said that we were expected to
was quite a trip to San Antonio on a two-lane highway. We be something. It was said that there was nothing we couldn’t
went there frequently for our medical care. I probably became do if we really wanted to.
interested in ophthalmology because my mother took me to Roberts: How tall was your father?
the ophthalmologist in San Antonio. Uhr: He was about 73 inches tall.
Roberts: What was your home life like? What was your house Roberts: Did your mother go to college?
like? What were your parents like? Uhr: Yes, to Our Lady of the Lake College (now university)
Uhr: We lived in a typical central Texas rock home with a in San Antonio. She graduated in 1936.
tile roof, two blocks from the plaza, the center of town, and Roberts: Where did your parents meet?
one block from City Hall. My maternal grandfather had built Uhr: They met when each was with a friend at a guest ranch
three houses as rental homes: he gave one to his son (my uncle) in New Braunfels, where they were riding horses. They married
and one to his daughter (my mother), and both lived in them on September 15, 1936.
during the late Depression years and during World War II and Roberts: Was dinner at night a big deal in your home when
afterwards. My folks never made me feel like we didn’t have what you were growing up?
we needed. During World War II, my mother, sister, and I took Uhr: It was not extravagant, but it was always a family meal.
the train to Fort Worth to see my father. I vaguely remember My dad worked for United Gas Company and his office was
staying at the Blackstone Hotel in Fort Worth. After the war, 1½ blocks from our house. He would walk home for lunch, go
of course, he lived at home. He traveled around the area but back to work, and get off at 5:00 pm. We would eat at 5:15 pm
hardly ever overnight. and then we would have the rest of the evening free. We always
My mother was very dedicated to her children and gave us sat down as a family for meals. My mother didn’t work outside
total positive reinforcement. If we did well in school, we were the home, so she was always there.
rewarded with a hug and congratulations, but not money. My Roberts: Were there lively conversations at the dinner table?
father never met a man or woman he didn’t like. Within 5 Uhr: Yes, depending on what happened that day. Because
minutes of meeting people they were best friends because he my mother’s parents and brother lived in New Braunfels, there
was so interested in what they did, who they were, and what was always something going on in the family, and that was
they liked. He would carry on a conversation forever if we didn’t discussed. Our conversations were not philosophical. My sister
pull him away. He always thought positively. If people were just and I were expected to behave. We were known in the town,
doing their jobs, such as airline stewardesses, he would get their and we couldn’t get away with anything. My mother had always
name and write a letter to the president of the company. There told me that motorcycles were dangerous and that she never
are probably thousands of letters in people’s files in companies wanted me to be on a motorcycle. A friend once talked me into
with congratulatory remarks from my father. He said his job riding on his motorcycle around the block. Before getting on it I
was to build people up; if they did a good job he wanted to looked around to make sure nobody was looking, and we drove
tell them. around the block. Later that afternoon my mother said, “I told
Roberts: What was his full name? you never to ride on a motorcycle.” She said that Mildred had
Uhr: Robert Jones Uhr. He was always known as Bob. called and mentioned that she saw me riding with Paul on his
Roberts: When did he live? motorcycle. In a small town, there is a spy network. I learned
Uhr: He was born on September 15, 1910, and died on early on that someone was always watching.
October 2, 1993. Roberts: So all adults were parents to the youngsters?
Roberts: He grew up on a farm? Uhr: Yes, but that was good. We didn’t have many behav-
Uhr: Yes, on the family farm. His father did many things. ioral problems in those days. Everyone was accountable for his
Initially, he was a carpenter. He was one of the main foremen at behavior because everybody knew everybody. It was like a big
the construction of Kelly Air Force Base during the 1920s. He family.
became a city alderman in San Antonio (like a city councilman), Roberts: Were there many books in your house? Did your
and eventually he was elected county treasurer and served in mother and father read a lot?
that position for 12 to 15 years. Uhr: My mother read Time and Life and news magazines.
Roberts: What was your mother’s full name? She was always reading current periodicals. My dad particularly
Uhr: Margaret Thekla Richter. She was always known as read the scientific and political items in the newspaper and
Gretchen, which is German for Margaret. She was born on magazines. He also liked the Wall Street Journal and some other
February 16, 1914, and died on October 20, 2002. business journals. My mother read the Reader’s Digest books.
January 2009 Barry Wayne Uhr, MD: a conversation with the editor 43
My dad read few books, but he was very knowledgeable about Uhr: No. My maternal grandfather was a pharmacist and
current events. his son, my uncle, was a pharmacist. The only other scientist
Roberts: How many students were in your high school gradu- was my father, an engineer.
ating class? Roberts: Your grandfather was a pharmacist in New
Uhr: We had 144 in my New Braunfels High School senior Braunfels?
class. I went to Carl Schurz Elementary School. Junior high Uhr: Yes. He had a pharmacy near the plaza downtown, and
school was seventh, eighth, and ninth grades and was in the old he and my grandmother lived above the store—the old-fash-
high school building, which my mother had attended. It was ioned European way, with the shop below and living quarters
an old-fashioned building with very high ceilings, no air-con- above. He had a bell by the front door of the pharmacy. Those
ditioning, big tall windows that opened widely, and steam-heat who needed a medicine during the night would ring the bell,
radiators. My mother had been a cheerleader in high school. I and he would come down and compound the medicine for
have pictures of her in her cheerleading outfit with her mega- them. In those days, he had to mix all the medications and
phone. The elementary school was old, the junior high school formulas by hand. I still have some of his old medicine bottles
was old, and the new non–air-conditioned high school was close with names of ingredients in Latin on them. They are works
to Highway 81, with long wings for cross-ventilation. of art themselves. I frequently watched him with the mortar
The teachers from first grade to twelfth grade were dedi- and pestle grinding up the ingredients and measuring out the
cated. Virtually all of the teachers were very interested in our amounts with a spatula and measuring tray and scraping the
learning. My Spanish and English teacher in high school, a mixture into little gelatin capsules.
spinster from San Marcos, was very strict, but if you did your Roberts: Did you ever work in the pharmacy?
work, she was behind you. The history and civics teacher had Uhr: No, I played there. There was a soda fountain so I
been in the Marine Corps during World War II and actually could have all the ice cream I wanted. In those days, all town
landed on many of the Pacific Islands during those invasions. physicians were general practitioners. They would come through
My science teacher started an advanced science class, where he the back of the pharmacy, and they all knew me. I would hear
picked the students who had performed well in sophomore them talk about some patients to my grandfather, describing
and junior science courses. His advanced science course was a to him their symptoms, and my grandfather would say, “This
preparatory class for college. He took everyone to a higher level medicine is good for that.” He was a helpful advisor to the physi-
in math, chemistry, and physics. We became friends. Later, he cians. One really nice practitioner would always have medical
was in my wedding. He was about 10 years older than I. books under his arms when he visited my grandfather. I thought
This teacher also worked at the local radio station on week- the physicians enjoyed what they were doing.
ends and would read the news and play music. I got enthralled Roberts: You mentioned that you went to San Antonio periodi-
with radio and wanted to learn more about it. I’d go to the cally to see an ophthalmologist?
radio station on Sunday afternoons, and he’d let me use the tape Uhr: We went for check-up exams.
recorder. I would turn on the microphone and record myself Roberts: Your mother had how many siblings?
reading news from the wire service. I learned how to pronounce Uhr: She had one brother, 10 years older.
words better. In high school I filled in at the radio station part- Roberts: Your father?
time. The summer after I graduated, I took some math courses Uhr: My father was one of originally six children. One
at Texas Lutheran College in Seguin (13 miles away) so that brother died in an accident on the farm when he was 18 or 20,
I could get that out of the way for the University of Texas. In so there were five when I was growing up.
Seguin, I worked at the radio station on Sundays playing music, Roberts: Did you all get together periodically? Did your father’s
reading news items, and reading commercials. It was a unique siblings stay in that area?
experience. I loved radio and being a disc jockey. Uhr: Yes, they were all in the San Antonio area. Christmas
Roberts: What other activities did you participate in during would be the traditional time when we would get together as
junior high and high school? a group.
Uhr: In junior high we had an intramural program of athlet- Roberts: You had quite a few cousins?
ics, and I played handball and basketball. We had competitions Uhr: Yes. There are a total of seven, but I saw them usually
between different classes and between grades. I got pretty good only at Christmas.
at handball. I did not do as well in basketball. Other fellows Roberts: Was your family religious? Did you go to church every
grew up faster and taller than I did. We also had academic Sunday and/or Wednesday night?
competitions where I competed in extemporaneous speaking Uhr: Yes. We went to the First Methodist Church in New
and debating. Braunfels. Every Sunday we went to Sunday school and church.
Roberts: How did you finish in your graduating class? It was about six blocks from our house. The first building I
Uhr: I was fourth in the class. Numbers 1 and 2 became remember was an old-fashioned church with a basement, and
PhDs and taught and did research; number 3 was a girl who you walked upstairs to get into the sanctuary—which was like
married early. Four in my senior class became nurses. A good an auditorium with dark mahogany wood. The choir would
friend became an ear, nose, and throat specialist. come in to start the service from the back on both sides sing-
Roberts: Were there any physicians in your extended family? ing a hymn. The principal of the high school at that time was
44 Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings Volume 22, Number 1
a singer with a deep voice, and he led the procession. Later, Roberts: How far did you get in the Boy Scouts? Did your
that church was demolished and a modern one built. I always father push that?
liked the old one. Uhr: We had a troop at the Methodist church. My best
Roberts: Was there alcohol in your home when you were grow- friend’s father, a baker in New Braunfels, was the scoutmas-
ing up? ter, and my dad was the assistant scoutmaster. They pushed
Uhr: Yes. My dad enjoyed a cocktail (Scotch and water). us. I made Eagle Scout and even got to Bronze Palm, which
Roberts: Before dinner at night? is one step beyond Eagle. My son is an Eagle Scout and my
Uhr: Not every night but on special occasions. This was grandson is now a Life Scout and expects to be an Eagle
a German community, so beer was sort of like medicinal wa- Scout. We had a campground on the bank of the Guada-
ter. Nobody in my family was ever a drunkard or an alcoholic lupe River that was near the third crossing. We camped and
or praised or condemned alcohol. I was told that it was there hiked up into the Hill Country around there and cooked
and when I was old enough, I was welcome to have it. My our own food. Camping was fun. I got the Order of the
grandmother always had the family Thanksgiving dinner in her Arrow, a camping honor, after spending the night out with
apartment above the pharmacy. She always had a small glass of no shirt and one blanket in the fashion of an Indian brave
wine for everybody at the dinner table. The children all had a initiation. Those experiences were incredible in stimulating
small liqueur-type glass filled three quarters full with water and personal development.
one-quarter with wine. The children were able to toast with the Roberts: How did you decide to go to the University of Texas
adults after our prayers. for college?
Roberts: Did your father or mother smoke cigarettes? Uhr: Because my dad was a Texas Aggie I thought I needed
Uhr: My mother did when she was young. She got sick once, to go to Texas A&M, but as I thought about it and realized that
unrelated to smoking, and the doctor told her to stop smoking the school had no girls at that time, I focused on the University
and she never smoked again. This happened when I was 9 or 10 of Texas (UT) in Austin. My dad told me to go where I was go-
years old. She was in good physical shape her whole life. She had ing to be happy. UT was just up the road from New Braunfels. It
started smoking in her bridge club where most of the women was a big university, and a number of friends were going there.
smoked. I was very glad when the bridge ladies quit meeting at I knew I was going to be premed or predental at that point and
our house because I hated the smell of the smoke. knew that I would get a good education.
Roberts: Did your father smoke? Roberts: You went to UT in what year?
Uhr: Never. Uhr: 1957.
Roberts: You had your own room growing up? Roberts: How many students did UT have at that time?
Uhr: Yes. Our non–air-conditioned 1800-square-foot house Uhr: About 13,000.
had three bedrooms but only one bathroom. It had a living Roberts: That was the first time you had been away from
room–dining room combination, breakfast area, and kitchen. home?
We had an attic fan with the vent in the hallway right outside Uhr: Yes.
my bedroom door. Every night during the summer I felt like I Roberts: Did you apply to several colleges?
was going to sleep in an airplane. We all sat on the front porch in Uhr: I did. I knew that I could get into UT. I had applied
the evenings. When we drove around town we waved to people to Rice but decided that I would enjoy UT more because it
sitting on their porches because we knew them. was bigger and had a better football team. It was also more
Roberts: When you were growing up did your family go on convenient to get back and forth. Freshmen were not allowed
vacations? to have cars, so my parents would have to take me.
Uhr: We went on two vacations: once to Corpus Christi Roberts: How did UT work out for you?
for the beach and later to Washington, DC. It was expensive to Uhr: It was great. I was not there for social activities. I
travel then. Because my dad did not make a whole lot of money, did not join a fraternity. I got into the Simkins dormitory
his other vacations were at our home. He would repair the roof adjacent to the law school, which was one of the newest build-
or paint or do other projects around the house. Vacation to me ings with air-conditioning. It was mainly for law students. I
at that time was my dad being home all day for 2 weeks. We thought it would be great because the law students would be
went to Washington, DC, when I was 11 or 12. When I was there to learn and therefore that dormitory would be quiet.
14 and in the Boy Scouts I went on a train to the Boy Scout I discovered that law students, who were older, tended to
Jamboree in Orange County, California, on the Irvine Ranch. party, and some nights it was not easy to study in the room.
My parents drove out there with my sister, saw me at the camp, Fortunately, this dormitory had a reception room on the first
and then finished their vacation trip while I was at camp. floor, and four of us premed students turned that into our
Roberts: How did you get to Washington, DC? study hall. We would generally study there until midnight. I
Uhr: We drove in a 1952 four-door Ford with no air-con- wanted to do more than just be a student. In my sophomore
ditioning. It had a little water cooler unit on a side window. year I got a job as an assistant lab instructor in biology. I was
The air would blow through the water and then come into the paid a little, but it gave me something to do other than study.
car. It was supposed to keep you cooler, but I was never sure I got to know the cytology and the parasitology professors and
that it did. later worked a year as a lab instructor in parasitology and as
January 2009 Barry Wayne Uhr, MD: a conversation with the editor 45
a grader. I taught the lab basically by myself. The professor guy was in pharmacy school but later went to medical school.
would drop in periodically. One day three girls walked by and my pharmacy school buddy
The last year I worked with Dr. John Biesle in his lab doing thought one girl was gorgeous and said he would love to meet
cancer research. He was studying tumors and chromosomal her. I told him I would find out her name. I was brave because
abnormalities in mice. I did cell staining preparations. Dr. Biesle it wasn’t for me. I walked over to the girls’ table and asked her
stimulated the growth of these tumor cells and blood cells. I name. After I stood there a minute or so, she told me, but she
was his mechanic. We treated the white blood cells with phy- wouldn’t tell me her last name. Karen was in that group of three
tohemagglutinin, which was a stimulus for cell division, and girls. I got interested in her at that point.
then made squash preparations of the chromosomes. I would A few days later I was in the experimental science building,
do that on a slide and then photograph them and then enlarge which is where I worked in the labs, and saw a blonde girl in
the photos. I took a sample of my own blood, separated the the elevator. I said that I knew her but I didn’t know her name.
white from the red blood cells, cultured the white cells, and We were riding up to the same floor, and I was going to the lab
put them in some phytohemagglutinin and waited for them to and she was going the other way to the genetics foundation. It
divide. Once they divided, I made squash preparations to see turned out that she was Karen. I figured that since we were on
the chromosomes. I took photos of my own chromosomes and the same floor in the building we ought to have some kind of
still have those pictures. relationship, so I went down and asked her for a “Coke date”
Roberts: Is that when you got interested in photography, or and she consented. Then I called her again for another date and
was that earlier? she turned me down. I learned that she was dating many guys
Uhr: Photography had been an interest since I was a kid. who obviously thought just as I did. It was a humbling experi-
My grandfather would send film from his drugstore to San ence, but I was persistent and eventually won out.
Antonio for development. It was all black and white in those Roberts: What were Karen’s characteristics that attracted you
days. Thus, I had access to getting all my pictures printed. I had to her?
a tiny bellows-type camera, and prints would be 3 × 4 inches. Uhr: Besides being blonde, beautiful, friendly, and viva-
I did my own developing and printing in the laboratory when cious, she was also a science major. Her mother ran one of
I worked in research at UT. the research labs in the genetics foundation, and she worked
Roberts: What was your major in college? part-time there to make some extra money. We spoke a com-
Uhr: I majored in zoology and minored in chemistry. It was mon language and studied together. On weekends, we used the
a premed program. I received a BA degree. empty science rooms as study halls. She was very organized in
Roberts: Did you go 4 years to college? her studies, very conversational, fun to be around, and upbeat;
Uhr: Yes, but I graduated in 3½ years because I went to sum- she loved to dance and loved music. Karen’s parents lived in a
mer school. After graduation, I got 9 hours towards a master’s house about 10 blocks from the university. Her dad worked at
degree. That was also the time I was a grader and worked in the university also.
those labs. As I got more into research, I became less interested Roberts: She lived at home during college?
in it and decided that I wouldn’t pursue a master’s because I Uhr: Yes, except for one semester when she lived in a soror-
didn’t see how that would help me. ity house. Her home became my home away from home. Her
Roberts: Did school come easy for you, or did you have to parents often had me over for dinner. Our relationship grew
study hard? with time.
Uhr: I always studied hard but I was well organized. I did Roberts: You met when?
not want to be one-dimensional. I loved history and also took Uhr: In 1959. I was a junior and she was a freshman.
some extra English classes to broaden my mind. Some of these Roberts: When did you decide to go into medicine rather
courses were harder for me than the science courses because of than dentistry?
all the reading at the same time my science courses required so Uhr: By the end of my first year in college, I had decided
much lab time, and I had to study hard. I made excellent grades on medicine. (Actually in high school a science teacher had told
in the science courses. me that I would probably not want to spend the rest of my life
Roberts: How did you finish? looking into people’s mouths.)
Uhr: I graduated cum laude (with honors). Roberts: When it came time to apply to medical school, how
Roberts: Did you enjoy living in Austin? did it work out?
Uhr: Yes, especially after I met my future wife. She was Uhr: Standard operating procedure in those days was to
from Austin. drive to the Texas schools, which were UT at Galveston, Baylor
Roberts: You met Karen there at college? What is her full at Houston, and Southwestern at Dallas. I applied to all three
name? Texas schools and went for interviews. I thought that Dallas
Uhr: Karen Arloa Bergquist. was a growing city and progressive, and Southwestern Medi-
Roberts: How did you meet? cal School had so much potential, especially with the clinical
Uhr: We met in the Commons, a cafeteria in the student experience that Parkland could provide. I also did not want to
activities building. Since it was a university cafeteria it was rela- live in the humidity of Houston or Galveston. Although I got
tively inexpensive. I ate there regularly with two other boys; one accepted to all three, I picked Southwestern.
46 Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings Volume 22, Number 1
Figure 3. At the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. (a) Freshman
portrait. (b) With Jack Bonner in the first-year physiology laboratory.
Roberts: When did you start medical school?
Uhr: In September 1961 (Figure 3). Figure 4. Marrying Karen, December 29, 1962.
Roberts: What was the situation with you and Karen then?
Uhr: She was still in Austin at UT. We were not engaged, but Roberts: Were there any classmates in medical school who have
we knew we would be at some point. I came to medical school gone on to prominence since graduation?
and finished the freshman year. She came up for fraternity par- Uhr: The one who is most well known is Wayne Isom,
ties. She says she was one of the original bus riders to Dallas. the cardiac surgeon at Presbyterian-Cornell Medical Center in
She got to know the name of every little town between Dallas New York City, who has operated on a number of celebrities.
and Austin where the Trailways bus stopped. We wrote letters In our class we had a large group from Texas Tech, and he was
every day or every other day because phone conversations were among them. He was just a regular guy, personality-wise, and
expensive. The summer after my freshman year I went back to extremely capable.
Austin and worked in the lab again so I could be there with her. Roberts: You would summarize your medical school career as
We got engaged the night of the Texas and Arkansas football a very successful one and I presume eventually an enjoyable one.
game in Austin, which was in October, and we decided to get Uhr: Yes. I don’t know how I did it, but it was just that
married at Christmas (Figure 4). Our announcement probably thirst to learn.
gave my future mother-in-law a stroke to hear that we wanted to Roberts: Do you know how you came out in your class of 100?
get married 2 months hence. Her two brothers were in the navy Uhr: I think I was at the edge of the upper third.
on ships in the Caribbean during the Cuban missile crisis. They Roberts: As you rotated through the various subspecialties in
had told us that the only time they probably could get off to get the third and fourth years, did you find it difficult to decide on
home was Christmas vacation. Fortunately, the crisis was over by your eventual specialty?
then. We got married on December 29, 1962, in Austin. We will Uhr: I wasn’t thinking
be married 46 years in December 2008. It hardly seems that we about it at that point. What
are old enough to have that many years of marriage. It has been I wanted was to be as well
a blessing to be married to my “best friend” all those years. rounded as possible and enjoy
Roberts: How did medical school strike you? Were there any everything that I was doing. I
surprises when you came to Dallas in September 1961? eliminated neurosurgery and
Uhr: The biggest surprise was to realize that the top people obstetrics-gynecology fairly
from many universities and colleges were all now gathered into early, but that’s it. I decided
one group. The students were the cream of the crop. I realized to intern in internal medicine
within 6 weeks that I would have to work three times as hard and selected Baltimore City
as before. The teachers were great. It was really an enthralling Hospital, which was part of Figure 5. At Mather Air Force Base in
experience, especially the clinical years. the Johns Hopkins program. California, 1967.
Roberts: How many were in your class? I spent 2 months on the pri-
Uhr: 100. vate service at the Johns Hopkins (the Marburg service). The
Roberts: In medical school were there any faculty who were internship got internal medicine out of my system. I wanted
particularly influential for you? to do something that used my hands more, but I still hadn’t
Uhr: Early on I had decided I wanted to stay open-minded decided.
about specialties. Don Seldin, head of the internal medicine During the Vietnam War, all physicians had to go into the
department and a brilliant teacher, strove to make Southwestern service. I had gone into the Berry Plan, which meant that I
the mecca for internal medicine. He set the quality standards had to go into the service after my internship. I got assigned
extremely high. His influence convinced me to do an inter- to Mather Air Force Base right outside Sacramento, California
nal medicine internship to at least explore that specialty. John (Figure 5). It was a navigator training base for the Air Force, and
Fordtran was another incredible teacher whom I greatly ad- they had a Strategic Air Command wing there with B-52s sitting
mired, and he too influenced me. on alert with atomic bombs on them. I was a general medical
January 2009 Barry Wayne Uhr, MD: a conversation with the editor 47
officer in the base hospital, an old-fashioned wooden structure to 2 inches. I took the mattress off the bed, put it on the floor,
sprawled out like a spider web. I reported to the commander and slept there.
who, after failing to convince me to work in the pediatric clinic, One weekend I got off on Sunday morning after rounds.
assigned me to be the base psychiatrist for referrals. There were Karen told me she was cooking a great meal of duck with or-
many retired military around there and a lot of spouses whose ange sauce for dinner. I told her that the snow outside was
husbands were in Vietnam, and they were depressed and anx- about 10 inches deep and that I didn’t have any way to get
ious. In the medical clinic all appointments were for 15 min- home—the buses were not running. I put on my high rubber
utes, but emotional (psychiatric) appointments were for 30 boots, wrapped up, and walked down the middle of the street
minutes. I could spend more time with those who needed that through the snow to our apartment. There was a large snow
help. We had only three psychotherapeutic drugs: amitriptyline, bank sloping down to our apartment. I laid down and rolled
chlorpromazine, and thioridazine. I got to practice on relation- down the snow bank to the front door of the apartment, came
ships—how to listen to people and see how they react. It was a in covered with snow, and said, “I’m here. Where’s the duck?”
personal growth period for me. And we ate.
I helped some people along the way. I got one fellow out The teaching service was good. Patients from all over the
of the service for migraine headaches. He was in there about world came to Hopkins. I spent some time in the Wilmer Oph-
every other day with migraines. Basically, he could not take thalmology Clinic and met Dr. Edward Maumenee. He allowed
military life and could not do his job. The active-duty patients me to walk around with the residents part of the time to see what
I could refer to Travis Air Force Base, where they had specialty- they did. That experience influenced me later when I decided
trained psychiatrists. An active-duty master sergeant, who had to go into ophthalmology.
flown unarmed Piper Cubs over the lines in Vietnam to spot Roberts: You and Karen had some wonderful experiences before
enemy activity, was sent to me for what was believed to be settling in Dallas?
psychosomatic abdominal pain. He had had all kinds of tests. Uhr: Karen was actually born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
I paged through his 6-inch chart and saw that he had never and moved to Austin when she was 6. She had an uncle in Pitts-
had a gallbladder series. I sent him for a gallbladder series, burgh and an aunt in Princeton, New Jersey. We visited them
and his gallbladder was full of stones. I said that he didn’t have often. Karen was very close to her aunt. An exciting experience
psychosomatic disease. They took his gallbladder out, and he for us was seeing the Ivy League championship football game
came back later and thanked me and said that I was the first between Princeton and Harvard. They played a more “wide
psychiatrist to ever cure gallbladder disease. I told him I had open” game than we were used to in Texas. When we were
switched hats on him midstream and become a real doctor for in California we toured all around the West Coast. My most
a day and found his problem. memorable experience was a visit to Yosemite on Memorial
Roberts: How did you decide to go to Baltimore for an in- Day weekend after big snows in the Sierra Mountains produced
ternship? huge waterfalls in the valley. I thought this unique and beautiful
Uhr: I wanted to get out of Dallas for a while, because I valley must be what heaven was like.
thought I would probably end up living here later and I wanted Roberts: Did you write the Yosemite poem then?
to get another viewpoint on things. Baltimore City Hospital was Uhr: No. I took pictures then and wrote the verses later.
similar to Parkland. It had the connection to Johns Hopkins, so [Note: see Avocations section on p. 72 in this issue of Proceed-
I knew I would get good teaching there and I could get good ings for samples of Dr. Uhr’s photos and verses.]
clinical experience. I don’t even remember what other hospitals Roberts: When and how did you decide that ophthalmology
I listed on my preference list. A classmate also interned at Bal- was the specialty for you?
timore City Hospital. Another nice thing was that Baltimore Uhr: When I was in California for 6 months and had 18
City Hospital paid one of the higher salaries for interns and had months remaining in the service, Karen and I had a “business
just completed building some garden-style apartments on the meeting” where we sat down to figure out what we were go-
hospital grounds. Calls could be taken from your apartment, ing to do. (The greatest thing in my life is to have a friend for
which was across the hospital’s parking lot. Karen got a job in a wife and a wife for a friend. We talk all the time. Half the
the pediatric chemistry lab at the hospital. We had an efficiency time we know what the other is going to say before it’s said.)
apartment, and we both worked in the hospital. We started strategizing about all the specialties and narrowed
Roberts: How did you enjoy the rotation through the Johns them down. My primary purpose was to have a family life, like
Hopkins Hospital? I had growing up. I liked working with my hands. I liked both
Uhr: It was interesting. My rotation was in January and hospital and office practice. We narrowed it down to dermatol-
February. City Hospital was on Eastern Avenue, about 25 blocks ogy, otolaryngology, and ophthalmology. Dermatology didn’t
away. I was on call every other night. I was on the private service interest me very much; otolaryngology was okay, but it was back
(Marburg), similar to BUMC where other private physicians to looking in patients’ mouths again. Ophthalmology allowed
were around. The intern sleeping quarters were on the top floor seeing people of all ages with both office practice and neat, clean,
of the old hospital building. They had wooden floors and two delicate surgery. I applied to eight programs. I flew to Dallas,
beds that were probably there since the hospital opened. The Houston, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh,
mattress that initially was probably 6 inches thick was down Minneapolis, and Ann Arbor for interviews. By the time I got
48 Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings Volume 22, Number 1
organized in our thought processes. As Dr. Scheie began to
trust the residents, even on his private patients, he would do
the primary procedure and allow them to close the incision.
We made rounds with him every day. When I was chief resi-
dent I was responsible for all the residents. Since I believed
in organization also, we got along great.
Three of us lived in the suburbs and carpooled to the hos-
pital. We all lived about a mile from each other. Of the six
residents in my year, two of us were from Texas—“the Texas
boys.” On Texas Independence Day, we would put on our boots
and Stetson hats and walk into the hospital. We got a few looks
from staff and others. The hardest thing was getting the operat-
ing booties over our boots.
Figure 6. Barry Uhr (fourth from left) with other senior ophthalmology residents Roberts: You were pleased with the Philadelphia program?
and their chief, Dr. Harold Scheie. Uhr: Yes. I got plenty of good experience (Figure 6).
Roberts: As that 3-year residency was coming to a close, how
back home (Karen had stayed with our son) after a week of did you decide to come back to Dallas?
traveling, I had a telegram from the University of Pennsylvania Uhr: Both of our families were in Texas. We didn’t want
saying I was accepted. Before accepting, I waited to hear from to be too far away since we had already experienced the sepa-
the others. Philadelphia sounded like the best choice. It got us ration. While in California and Philadelphia we saw a lot of
to a different area in a well-known program. the crazy things going on with the younger generation (hippie
Roberts: After you had been in the Philadelphia program years, Vietnam, etc.). The coasts got wild pretty fast and young
for a couple of months, were you pleased that you had selected people were assaulted with all the influences. By the time it got
ophthalmology? to the middle of the country the chaos had settled down—more
Uhr: Yes. I had to change my focus because ophthalmology calm, less radical—so we thought the climate for raising a fam-
of course concentrates on a small organ. It was very intriguing, ily would be better in Dallas. Additionally, we saw Dallas as a
and it was delicate work. Ophthalmologists look through a mi- progressive, growing place with lots of excitement. The economy
croscope to see their world, but that little area is the same as the in Dallas was good.
whole body if you are looking on a macro scale. Because many Roberts: When did you finish your residency?
systemic diseases affect the eye, my previous internal medicine Uhr: In 1971.
training was not wasted. Roberts: Where did you set up practice when you first came
Roberts: Did you start operating quickly, or how does that to Dallas?
work in an ophthalmology residency? Uhr: I opened my first office on July 21, 1971. There
Uhr: We had a system that was probably different from was an ophthalmology center building on Lemmon Avenue
that of other programs. The program director, Dr. Harold with about eight or nine ophthalmologists. One was Dr.
Scheie, had been a general in the army medical service during John Eisenlohr, whom I had known since I was in medical
World War II. He had treated Lord Mountbatten in Burma school. He was from Dallas and had trained at the Wilmer
and had a worldwide reputation. He ran the department Institute at Hopkins. When I was in medical school, he
very tightly and ran a very organized residency. He brought had checked Karen’s eyes one time and I had met him then.
the residents along a step at a time. First-year residents were I always respected him. I thought that working with the
operative assistants, essentially acting as nurses, running the other ophthalmologists would be great and that I’d get some
instrument tray, observing, and transporting patients. Then spillover from their practices and cover emergencies for them.
we started doing minor things such as removing sutures from Thus, I moved into their building. I also made rounds at the
an eye. We had to first pass the test of “Do you know how to medical school since I didn’t have a busy practice early on. I
think in the operating room?” That weeded out some residents; met Dr. Kenneth Foree, who became chief of ophthalmology
they had great brains but were not practical thinkers or adept at BUMC. His uncle, Dr. Kelly Cox, had been in the Medi-
with their hands. Thus, the first year we learned from obser- cal Arts Building, which was being torn down for the new
vation. In the second year we were first assistants in surgery Republic Bank Tower, and they were moving to BUMC. This
with the third-year residents. A third-year resident doing a was about 1½ years into my practice. Dr. Foree, an ethical
cataract operation, for example, might put in four sutures, and common-sense sort of guy, told me that Dr. William
and the assistant might put in the other two. A second-year Berry, whom I had known since medical school, was coming
resident would remove a pterygium or other external lesion. out of the Air Force in 9 months and would join him. I asked
The third-year residents did all the other surgery, but a staff if there was room for me. He said yes, and thus I joined their
person was always there. Dr. Scheie had an operating room practice. (I had already joined the staff at BUMC when we
with four tables and operated twice a week. It was an as- first moved to Dallas.)
sembly line. We got to observe Dr. Scheie and thus got very Roberts: You moved to the Barnett Tower in 1973?
January 2009 Barry Wayne Uhr, MD: a conversation with the editor 49
Uhr: Yes. We were the second office
opened in that building.
Roberts: What is life like for an oph-
thalmologist? Do you operate on a particu-
lar day? What is your week like?
Uhr: I was never an aggressive sur-
geon. I didn’t want to be a “cataract
cowboy.” I wanted to be able to enjoy
medicine. Ophthalmology for me was
never just another eyeball rolling by on
which to operate, although I enjoyed
surgery (Figure 7). I scheduled surgery
for a half day a week. Often that half a b
day went into a full day. Occasionally, Figure 7. (a) In 1974 with the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania Ophthalmology Alumni Association
I operated 2 half days a week depending touring the operating rooms being built on the seventh floor of Collins Hospital, which at the time were de-
on the surgery load. voted to ophthalmology and plastic surgery. (b) In the BUMC operating room performing cataract surgery in
The main thing that is enjoyable November 1983.
to me is the office—dealing with the
patients. I have probably talked more people out of having
surgery through the years because they realized they did not
really need it. Guiding them in a safe manner is a major focus
for me. Just because something is there doesn’t mean you have
to do something about it unless it is necessary. I picked up that
view from my father and my chief. I have always said that I
can operate but I can’t unoperate. If the risk and benefit ratio
is not in the patient’s favor, then the operation should wait.
My rule is “When in doubt, procrastinate.” Sometimes I want
to slow patients down because they want instant success. I
tell patients every time I’m recommending a procedure that I
cannot guarantee the outcome. I don’t want to look back and
say I was responsible for getting a patient into the operating
room too soon. That’s been my philosophy all along. Figure 8. The Uhr family, October 3, 2008. Adults (left to right): Bradley and
The only thing I really regret about the way medicine has Becca Uhr, Barry and Karen Uhr, Kimberly Uhr Clark and David Clark, Kristin Uhr
gone is the introduction of advertising, which has degraded Haber and Jeff Haber. Grandchildren (left to right): David and Megan Uhr, Molly
the profession because it’s transformed it into salesmanship. and Jane Clark, and Dylan and Kaylie Haber (the twins).
I want to be remembered for the fact that the patient came
to me, we talked back and forth, and we decided together. I Uhr: We had a great arrangement for weekend getaways.
have tried to guide a person in the direction that I thought Karen’s mother was a widow in Austin, and she bought a boat on
was right and safe, and I feel so far in my practice that I have Lake Austin and docked it there. In summers, we would spend
accomplished that. probably four weekends on the lake. We stayed at her house,
Roberts: You have three children. Can you talk about them? which was 10 minutes from the boat. Our kids grew up on the
Uhr: I’m very proud of all of them. They are all married water. They were very inexpensive vacations. Our real family
with two children (Figure 8). Our son, Bradley Karl Uhr, was vacations would be to the YMCA in the Rocky Mountains at
born on February 3, 1967, in California while I was in the Air Estes Park. We took the kids there every summer for probably
Force. He graduated from UT at Austin in business and finance 5 or 6 summers. Another family in Dallas with similar-aged
and became a certified public accountant. kids often vacationed with us in the Rocky Mountain National
Roberts: Who is your second child? Park. We often hiked all day.
Uhr: Kristin Emilie Uhr Haber. She was born on July 13, Roberts: How much time would you generally take off during
1969, and lives in Marina del Ray, California. She graduated from the year?
Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, in theater. Uhr: That week and those weekends. We’d go to Austin on
Roberts: And your third? Friday afternoon and come back on Sunday. I didn’t take a lot
Uhr: Kimberly Laine Uhr Clark. She was born on February of time off because I was trying to build my practice. Karen
18, 1971, and she lives in Dallas. She graduated from UT at Aus- and I went snow skiing during the winters when the kids were
tin in the Plan II honors program and broadcast journalism. young, and the grandmother would come up and stay with the
Roberts: You have six grandchildren! Did you take off much kids. When they got older we took them also.
time from work as your family was growing up? Roberts: You learned to ski as an adult?
50 Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings Volume 22, Number 1
b c d
Figure 9. With Karen (a) at the Forbidden City, Beijing, 2002, (b) at Machu Picchu, Peru, 2005, (c) at the Amalfi Coast, Italy, 2006, (d) in Moscow, July 2007.
Uhr: Yes, when in the Air Force in California. Sacramento classmates have retired. They wonder why I’m still working. I
was 2 hours from Squaw Valley. I’d get off on Wednesday after- don’t want to retire. If I want to take a vacation I do it. We travel
noon and go to a little ski area about halfway to Squaw Valley. more now (Figure 9). We have been to most European countries
We learned how to ski there. and also to Russia, China, New Zealand, Peru, Canada, Norway,
Roberts: It sounds like bringing up your three kids was a great and Sweden. In our mid-40s, we started traveling, taking at
pleasure for you and Karen. least one major trip a year somewhere overseas or to Canada.
Uhr: It was. When we moved back to Dallas in 1971, we When Karen’s father died during my residency we realized the
lived in North Dallas, about 4 blocks from Richardson High one thing you cannot buy is time, so we vowed to travel while
School. The commute wasn’t bad initially, but by 1975, the we could.
traffic had worsened substantially. We found a home on Cornell Roberts: What’s the evening like in your house?
Avenue in Highland Park that we could afford and moved there Uhr: My wife and I have dinner and we talk as we have done
just before Brad started the fourth grade. We have lived there for 46 years. We talk about the day’s events and family. We check
since 1976. We subsequently enlarged the house enough so the e-mails or search online or read. Karen is an avid reader. We are
kids would have rooms of their own. They all went through in three dance clubs, a book club, and a political discussion club.
the Park Cities schools (from Armstrong to McCullough to Karen is on the board of the Southern Methodist University
Highland Park High School). (SMU) Godbey Lecture Series. We go to the Tate Lectures at
Roberts: What is your work schedule like now? Is it similar to SMU, the Dallas Symphony Pops, and live theater.
what it was 30 years ago? Roberts: Tell me about the book club.
Uhr: No. I start at 8:00 am and usually finish by 4:00 pm. Uhr: It’s a Thursday night book club, and it meets five times
I’m in the office on Monday and Wednesday. My surgery day is a year. We have different speakers. Karen and I were president
Tuesday morning. I’ll schedule surgery on Tuesday morning and of it a few years back. The president is responsible for getting
then go by the office in the afternoon or I might do some lasers the speakers with input from the other members. For example,
in the afternoon at Baylor Visual Function Center. If I had a lot I got one of the professors from SMU, a patient of mine, and
of operations then I’ll do the lasers on Thursday afternoon. I’ll he talked about politics. We got a local author to discuss his
go in on Thursday mornings. If I’m on call on the weekend I’ll book on the Santa Fe Trail. We meet in people’s homes. We’ll
schedule Friday morning patients. Otherwise, I don’t work on have anywhere from 50 to 70 people at each meeting. That
Fridays. That’s a way for me to have a little more control of my combined with the SMU Tate Lecture Series helps us continue
time. When I had kids in school, I worked 5 full days. our lifelong learning.
Roberts: This schedule is relatively new in your life. Roberts: Are you active in the United Methodist Church?
Uhr: Yes. Until 1½ years ago, I worked 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Uhr: We are members of a very active class at Highland Park
every day except my surgery day. Many of my medical school United Methodist Church. It is a “do” class. We serve at the Austin
January 2009 Barry Wayne Uhr, MD: a conversation with the editor 51
The other is The Prize, covering the development of the oil
industry and its relation to politics, money, and power. These
two books are incredibly educational and tell the story of man’s
strengths and weaknesses and how we got to where we are.
Roberts: Do you read much fiction?
Uhr: No, but I do enjoy fictional action movies.
Roberts: What does Karen prefer?
Uhr: She prefers history too. We both like nonfiction be-
cause we want to learn from it so as to not repeat the mistakes
of the past.
Roberts: What is your house like?
Uhr: Our house is a home; it’s not a showplace. My wife
has some practical antiques like a bureau that we bought at a
Figure 10. With Karen at the Rose Bowl, January 4, 2006. sale. We have some paintings. I am a fan of G. Harvey and his
paintings. We are lucky enough to have three originals. Our
Street shelter and we do Carpenters for Christ, building homes home is just very comfortable.
with Habitat for Humanity. We support various community Roberts: Do you require a lot of sleep at night?
projects, such as providing food for families at Thanksgiving and Uhr: I average about 7 hours. I learned in medical school that
helping with the North Texas Food Bank. It’s a group of very well a 10-minute catnap will keep me going for an extra hour or two.
educated and compelling people, from geologists to lawyers to Roberts: It doesn’t sound like you spend much time watching
physicians. We even have a philosophy professor who is a retired sporting events?
minister. Our conversations are diverse and educational. Uhr: I don’t except for the Texas Longhorns football games
Roberts: How many are in that group? (Figure 10). In the early Dallas Cowboys years, I watched a lot
Uhr: On an average Sunday 40 to 60 people attend. The because I took care of many Cowboys as patients. I got to know
overall class is probably 80 members. In the summer, we don’t Tom Landry and Tex Schram on a personal basis. I thought they
get there much because we are usually out of town. had much integrity and were the type of person I could relate
Roberts: What do you do on Saturdays? to. In fact, Tom Landry was a father figure to me in that he
Uhr: We have a house on Lake Whitney. During my years was a real person and had a value system like mine. Because of
of being really busy with the practice, that was my escape. We them, I was very interested in the early Cowboys. When they
bought it in 1993. It’s not a “city place” in the country. It’s a lake all went away, I kind of shied away too.
home and sits on a bluff. We whisk off to the lake house when Roberts: Barry, you are at an ideal body weight. How do you
I’m not on call or we don’t have some function in Dallas. Most keep that way?
often it’s just the two of us. Sometimes we bring friends or the Uhr: It is that old medication called self-denial. You don’t
kids may come. In the winter we build a fire, sit back, and read put in so many calories that you have to work them off. But I’m
books and listen to music. On summer mornings, we work in lucky that my grandfathers were all the same—with tall, thin
the yard, and in the afternoons we sit in the air-conditioning. body types. I just watch what I eat. I work out at least 1 or 2
We can watch birds eat at a bird feeder with the lake in the days a week at the Tom Landry Center mainly to keep toned
background. We have a deck where we can watch the sunset. and keep the joints working. As many of my patients say, “I
Fresh-water pelicans come through there in the spring and fall, keep moving so I don’t lock up.”
covering the lake for a while. Roberts: I noticed that you have been president of at least
Roberts: How long does it take you to get to Lake Whitney? three major organizations—the Dallas County Medical Society
Uhr: Ninety minutes. When we were looking for a place, we (Figure 11), the Dallas Academy of Ophthalmology, and the Texas
drew circles with a protractor on a map—30, 60, and 90 minutes Ophthalmological Association—and a member of the board of
from Dallas—and we decided 90 minutes was our maximum. trustees of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. How have
Roberts: Are you an avid bird watcher? you tried to influence the members of those societies in your leader-
Uhr: No. I love nature in general. I like to get away from ship positions?
asphalt and concrete. I guess I’m kind of a romantic in that Uhr: The first thing I realized is that most of the work in
sense. If we didn’t have asphalt or concrete or bricks, what any organization is done by about 5% of the members. Service
would life be like? When I go down there and sit on that deck was always my top priority in that if I could help someone or an
I see what it would be like. organization improve, that’s what I wanted to do. I try to look at
Roberts: What books do you read? What interests you? things very practically and not get lost in the forest, so to speak.
Uhr: I like historical books. One of my two favorites in In these organizations, I started at some lower committee level,
recent times is From Dawn to Decadence, an absolutely incredible had some input, and that led to further opportunities. All of
book published in 2000 and spanning 500 years from the 1500s these organizations are educational in one way or another. In the
to the end of the 20th century. It is about the maturing of man, Dallas Academy of Ophthalmology, we have speakers four times
his interactions with science, theology, philosophy, and society. a year. The Texas Ophthalmological Association is our state
52 Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings Volume 22, Number 1
competitive. I don’t know what
the acceptance rate is now.
Roberts: You are a man of
many interests. Do you play the
Uhr: Yes, by ear.
Roberts: Do you play
Uhr: I play whenever the
mood strikes me. When I was
younger, I started out playing
a b drums, but my parents said I
Figure 11. At his installation as president of the Dallas County Medical Society in January 1992: (a) with Karen was not going to play the drums
and (b) with extended family. Front row: Richard and Bonnie Uhr Denson (sister), “Gretchen” and Robert J. Uhr at home. I learned the clarinet
(parents). Back row: Bradley (son) and Becca Uhr, Barry and Karen Uhr, Kimberly and Kristin Uhr (daughters), and and the saxophone and played
Denise Denson (niece). in the band through junior high
school. I learned how to read
organization. In addition to lobbying efforts for medicine/oph- treble cleft for those two instruments. My sister took piano
thalmology to oppose people becoming an ophthalmologist by lessons. I didn’t want to learn the bass cleft; I just wanted to
legislative fiat, we have a program once a year where we get our play melody.
continuing medical education credits during the Texas Medical When we moved back to Dallas, we refurbished a player
Association meetings. The American Academy of Ophthalmol- piano. I thought if scrolls of music could play on this thing, I
ogy is the largest organization of ophthalmologists in the world. ought to be able to play it. I got a beginner’s book and a key
At least 90% of the ophthalmologists in the USA are members. indicator that tells what the notes are. As I went through that
We also have a large number of international members. process, I started playing songs. I put the music and the key
The way I contribute in any organization is to try to balance indicator away and thought that since there were a lot of musi-
the different opinions and come to a consensus on an issue. My cians who couldn’t read music, I would practice until I got the
partner, William Berry, once said that I was the person who song down. I can play for myself, like a jazz player. I play songs
could take two divergent issues and bring them to the center that I want to play, and I love to improvise.
and make a decision. If you are in an organization and you have Roberts: That is very relaxing for you?
a goal, then anything that gets in the way of accomplishing Uhr: Yes. When my daughter was taking music lessons, we
the goal is really a negative. If you have dissidents on one side, found a baby Steinway (M series) and we bought that for her. She
listen to them, find out what they are saying, and if they have quit playing after a number of years and it just sat there so I use
something of value in their thoughts bring it over, modify it, it. Good music to me is a mantra for the soul. It stimulates my
tone it down if you need to but get to the goal. Don’t lose sight creativity.
of where you are going. Roberts: Do you play the other instruments anymore?
We had years of very high opinions on several issues in the Uhr: No. My folks got rid of them when I was in college
American Academy of Ophthalmology. When I was on those or medical school.
committees, every time I would hear the arguments, I would say, Roberts: What about your photography hobby?
“I understand your thoughts but how are we going to modify Uhr: Photography is the most relaxing creative thing that
them to accomplish the mission? Are you speaking because you I can do because I guess it ties into my ophthalmology visual
want to have your name in the headlines, or are you speaking perspective. What is in this scene? What are the details? If I
because you want an issue modified? Let’s get to the end of it.” could paint I would be very happy, but I can’t visualize that
That’s the way I’ve fixed issues all my life—set a goal, work perspective and tie it into my hands. I use photography as my
toward the goal, listen to other points of view, but don’t lose creative side. We’ve hiked at the Rocky Mountain National
sight of the goal. Help others save face but act. I think that is Park, Glacier Park, and Waterton Park in Canada (Figure 12).
the job of any leader. We are “parkies.” When we go down a trail I lag behind eve-
Roberts: How many ophthalmologists are in the USA? rybody because I am always finding a scene or a flower or
Uhr: Probably 18,000 to 20,000. shadows or something that I can use to compose a picture.
Roberts: It’s my understanding that ophthalmology is the hard- They are always telling me to catch up. I keep telling them
est specialty to break into from the residency training standpoint. they are going to be sorry: while they are going down this
Is that still correct? trail today, I will have these pictures and can go down this
Uhr: It is very competitive because there are relatively few trail again whenever I want. I printed some of the pictures
slots compared to the number of medical students applying. Most that I took in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and they hang
residency programs have grown through the years. An average on the walls in my office along with the verses I composed to
program is between five and eight residents per year. It is very go with them.
January 2009 Barry Wayne Uhr, MD: a conversation with the editor 53
go to surgery. Macular degenera-
tion subspecialists don’t have to
operate. They are medical oph-
thalmologists. You can do parts
of the overall scene and not all
of it. To get board certified in
ophthalmology, you have to have
done a certain number of opera-
tions. There are some who did
not stay in the ophthalmology
training program. I guess that
they moved into other fields,
when their program chief real-
a b ized their limitations. There are
Figure 12. With Karen (a) hiking in Aspen, Colorado, (b) lodge to lodge helihiking in the Canadian Rockies. probably not many.
Roberts: You wrote a lot while
Roberts: Do you take pictures almost every week? president of one or more organizations on subjects such as who is
Uhr: Mostly when we travel or when I am at the lake house. going to pay for medical care and how to improve medical care.
I have many photographs of sunsets. What do you think would be the best medical system, and how do
Roberts: What camera do you use? you see medicine in the USA 15 years from now?
Uhr: Presently, a small Nikon 5.2 megapixel pocket digital Uhr: My hope is that, at the very least, we will have a dual
camera. I used a Nikkomat 35 mm single lens reflex camera system somewhat similar to the British. There may be a Na-
before digital cameras became available. tional Health Service that covers people for their basic needs
Roberts: If you ever do retire, you shouldn’t be bored. You’ve and those who can’t afford it otherwise, but I hope we will also
got plenty of things on your plate. have a private medical care system. Medical care delivery is
Uhr: I hope that my brain will outlast my body because I complex, and politicians are caught up in it because of the cost.
think my creative brain parts will keep me going. A dual system would allow people a choice. It’s going to be very
Roberts: When did you start writing poems? hard to accomplish that in our society because of the politics
Uhr: In college when I started thinking about the mean- involved. I would like to have a dual system because each side
ing of life. In college I struggled to reconcile my religion with of that balancing act would make the other side better than it
science. A lot of those thoughts I wrote down. My grandfather would be if there were only one system. It would be built-in
died when I was a sophomore in college, and my dad told me competition for excellence, making all providers a little better. A
not to come to the funeral because I had exams coming up and single universal system that the government paid for would al-
he would want me to put my education first. His death made low them to control everything that happened. It would become
me start wondering about passing to a different generation, and even more a politicized system. The quality would decrease to
now I am a member of the senior generation. I try not to worry a median level rather than improve.
about my age but instead focus on what I can be. That saves a Roberts: Barry, is there anything that you would like to discuss
lot of wasted energy. I just keep plugging away. Writing helps that we haven’t touched on?
me organize my thoughts and express my feelings. Uhr: The medical field of course has evolved since I have
Roberts: What are your plans for the future? been in it, but it is still a “band of brothers and sisters” trying
Uhr: Right now my plan is to keep working. I don’t really to do better every day. We lose if we do not maintain that high
call it work. I think of it as practicing medicine. I want to help professional level because most of the public trusts physicians.
people as long as I can. I have patients who tell me that I can’t That MD behind our names garners trust that has been built
retire until they have their cataracts and need them out. I can up over many years. Nothing gives me a bigger high than the
adjust my schedule to allow time to travel and time to see my idea that I am in that select group of people. Who would ever
grandkids. I want to get smarter about the world. think that someone would lie down on an operating table
Roberts: Eye surgery is a very delicate surgery. You cannot make and give their body to you to work on and trust that you are
many mistakes if you are involved with an eyeball. You mentioned going to do the right thing to help them? I think about that
earlier that some of the residents going into ophthalmology just don’t always. Our healing powers are limited—even though there
have delicate fingers to do the job. How do you weed them out? is much we can do. When a patient dies, we have to take the
Uhr: There are other areas of ophthalmology that you can family in and say that we did everything we could and have
do. You can be a neuro-ophthalmologist, basically a diagnosti- that family look us in the eye and believe what we said. When
cian, a glaucoma specialist, where you treat medically. When they trust what you do and say, that evokes a feeling I will
it comes to surgery you can refer to your partner or to another never forget.
surgeon. Likewise, you can practice in the office and just do Roberts: That’s a good way to end. Thank you, Barry, for
general ophthalmologic examinations, treat diseases, and never sharing some of your thoughts and experiences.
54 Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings Volume 22, Number 1