President's Calling - Tribute to our Executive Director, and the Academy Succession Plan

Published July 20, 2018

Most by now have received word that our wonderful executive director, Lois Schoenbrun, has announced her retirement in April of 2019, after nearly 23 years of dedicated service to the Academy and its Foundation. Under her leadership our organization has experienced remarkable growth in membership, annual meeting attendance, corporate revenue, increased financial stability, and increased respect and prestige within the eye and vision care community. Annual meeting education is stellar, attracting remarkable speakers such as Drs. Jerry and Carol Shields speaking on ocular melanomas and Mr. Malcolm Gladwell giving his thoughts on the current state of health care and research. We have shifted the paradigm, from the Academy being a niche organization to one that thinks big, attracts doctors and students in record numbers, and provides education that supports the best possible patient care. 

Although not expecting to have to implement a succession plan anytime soon, the board of directors, executive director and staff labored for almost a full day last year at a meeting in Orlando to put in place a viable plan. Admittedly, the process was a bit painful; some might describe it as an exercise that is a "cure for insomnia." Regardless, the board and our executive director felt it was prudent to have a viable succession plan; we completed the process in a collegial fashion. We're all thankful that a document exists to help us navigate through the process of naming a new executive director over the next several months. 

A search committee has been named that provides balance for all stakeholders (i.e. board of directors, past presidents and other leaders, as well as Foundation board input, and other Academy members). President-elect Barbara Caffery has been named search committee chair and will serve along with Mark Eger, Sue Cotter, Jeff Walline, and Kerry Giedd. 

The Board of Directors meets this month in Hershey, PA for an in-person board meeting. A timeline for selecting our new director will be established and a request for proposal for an executive search firm will shortly be sent out. In order to minimize any disruption in Academy leadership, the Board would like to make a final decision by early January, if possible. Lois has graciously agreed to assist and do whatever is necessary to assure a smooth transition. We promise to keep all members informed as we move through this process. 

I thought it would be appropriate to end this month with some musings from past presidents of the Academy as they reflect upon the interaction they have had with Lois over the years. A special thank you to all who provided a comment!

"A big thank you to Lois for her 23 years of service and dedication as executive director of the American Academy of Optometry. Congratulations to her and best wishes on her upcoming retirement. Wishing her much enjoyment in sunny Florida and in other adventures and destinations." Bert C. Corwin (1988-1990)

"Lois 'hit the ground running' at the International Meeting of the Academy in Copenhagen and has continued with enthusiasm, energy and dedication. Her leadership and managerial skills have fostered positive and productive relationships with the multitude of volunteers, industry and academia, leading to a very strong Academy in 2018. With great appreciation and admiration and best wishes for future endeavors." Joan Exford (1993 & 1994)

"It was a sunny May day, in many respects, in Denmark when the Academy executive council (now called the board of directors) decided to invite Lois to oversee the transition from PAI Management Corporation to our own permanent staff. Her enthusiasm, management and leadership skills were up to the task and the Academy office was fully functional by January 1st, 1997, only seven months later. The Academy has thrived and grown under her stewardship. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to know and work with Lois over the years. I wish her good health and happiness in the years ahead." Tony Cullen (1995 & 1996)

"It is hard to believe that Lois has been with the Academy for 23 years. How time flies! I remember her coming to the international meeting in Denmark for an interview and to learn about the Academy. She has been an excellent leader who has taken the Academy and the Foundation to heights beyond our expectations. I thank her for her tireless efforts on behalf of the Academy and wish her the best in retirement." Jerry Lowther (1997 & 1998)

"Lois has been at the helm of directing the AAO through many years of success. She is to be complimented. I recall with fondness Lois' hiring while I was on the board [then "council"] and how enthusiastically she embraced the job and her new organization. The "Schoenbrun era" has indeed been one of high achievement and advances for the Academy, and Lois deserves accolades for her leadership part in this. Hats off to Lois and I wish her the very best in the next phase of her life! With much thanks and fondness." Tony Adams (1999 & 2000)

"Lois has been the orchestra leader of the AAO and AAOF for 23 years. During her tenure, hundreds of Fellows have had the pleasure of working with her. She has been a leader who coordinated their many and diverse talents, and brought out the best from every volunteer. I wish her a long, healthy, and fulfilling retirement." Bob Newcomb (2001 & 2002)

"I have known Lois since the time of her joining the AAO. I am amazed at what she has accomplished in growing the organization and making the annual meeting the most prestigious in optometry. Congratulations on a job well done and surviving working with so many different bosses. It takes a special person to be able to adapt to dealing with many different personalities." Tom Lewis (2003 & 2004)

"Congratulations Lois. From the first day I met you in Copenhagen, I have always admired your work ethic, leadership, and representing the Academy so well throughout your career. You have guided the Academy in tremendous growth and expansion and established the Academy meeting as the premier optometry meeting in the world. I wish you the best in your retirement." Joe Yager (2005 & 2006)

"For nearly 23 years Lois has helped the AAO & AAOF achieve ourVISION. Now it is time for her to FOCUS on her future. Sincere thanks for ALL your efforts!" Rick Weisbarth (2007 & 2008)

"It is hard for me to imagine how Lois brought us from where we were 22 years ago to where we are now, knowing that she had to change bosses every two years. In reality though, she has been our boss and just let us think we were in charge. I can't thank her enough for making my term as president such an easy and rewarding experience, for making the Academy so meaningful for me, and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors." Mark Eger (2009 & 2010)

"During my term as president, Lois was a great partner. Often, I felt like she read my mind!" Karla Zadnik (2011 & 2012)

"Lois has been an effective leader for our American Academy of Optometry for more than two decades. Her guidance has been an essential part of our success story over the years. She has a great love for our organization and can proudly look back on a career of substantial achievement as our executive director. Thank you, Lois, for your service, your passion, and your many contributions to our beloved Academy and our profession." Bernie Dolan (2013 & 2014)

"Lois has demonstrated an astonishing ability to adapt to unique temperaments of each president every two years while maintaining consistency of leadership and interminable conviction to grow the membership and influence of the Academy, empower staff, and build bridges with our industry partners. We have been fortunate to share a common vision of the Academy with Lois and will miss her." Brett Bence (2015 & 2016)

Lois will be sorely missed, but thankfully we don't have to say goodbye until April 2019 when she retires. We can only hope that our next executive director is nearly as gifted as Lois with the right skillset, and also stays with us for a long, long time! 

There will be many more opportunities, especially at the annual meeting in San Antonio, to recognize the wonderful contributions this fine lady made. Please join me along with the past presidents in wishing Lois a long, healthy and enjoyable retirement. 


Joseph P. Shovlin, OD, FAAO