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"Retirement is when you stop living at work and you begin working at living."
So read one of the letters sent by a grateful patient to Dr. Graham Trope in celebration of his retirement. After 38 years of service at UHN, Dr. Trope officially closed the chapter on his clinical career on March 4.
"That made an impression on me," he says of the statement. "Because I really have spent the last 38 years living at work – but they were very enjoyable ones!"
Those years were also very busy. Growing up in a "medical family" in South Africa where his father was an ophthalmologist, Dr. Trope followed in his father's footsteps by training in ophthalmology in the United Kingdom, including a PhD at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
"When I completed my training in the early '80s, I wasn't keen to return to South Africa due to the political situation under apartheid at the time," he recalls. "Dr. Clive Mortimer at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) was looking for a glaucoma clinician-researcher to join his team and off I went to Canada."
Arriving in Toronto in 1984, Dr. Trope became Director of the Glaucoma Service which he led until his retirement. Eye care and treatment was quite different at the time.
"When I first joined, TGH had a whole inpatient unit for eye patients," he says. "We admitted all patients who needed eye surgery and practiced that way. It's very unusual to admit eye patients now."
When Dr. Trope became head of the department, he oversaw the merger between the TGH and Toronto Western Hospital (TWH) eye departments, which then moved to TWH where it became the
Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute – today treating more than 85,000 patients across five clinics for different eye specialties.
But living at work didn't only involve caring for thousands of patients. Beyond his clinical work, Dr. Trope published more than 225 scientific peer-reviewed research papers, wrote two books, served as Editor-in-Chief for the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology and trained 51 glaucoma fellows from all parts of Canada and around the world.
'A wonderful place to work these many years'
He was also appointed Ophthalmologist-in-Chief, a role he held between 1992 and 2000; founded the Glaucoma Research Society of Canada, which he still leads as Scientific Director; and served as Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Toronto, where he is also a professor and where he will continue his research in hopes of finding a cure for glaucoma.
Dr. Trope's contributions to ophthalmology in Canada have been recognized by a number of awards including the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal and, in 2018, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Ophthalmological Society.
"It's been fantastic," Dr. Trope says of career of nearly four decades. "I have worked with amazing people, fabulous patients and had such great support from our donors.
"TWH has been a wonderful place to work these many years."
And what does working at living look like?
Dr. Trope has many interests beyond medicine including nature walks, riding his motorcycles and E-bike, fixing tube radios and especially repairing old pocket and wrist watches – a hobby that complements his surgical skills nicely and is aided by some familiar medical equipment.
"When the hospital was discarding some of its old equipment many years ago, I salvaged an old microscope used in a treatment room," Dr. Trope explains. "It's a binocular microscope which can be used with both eyes instead of one, unlike most watch repair equipment, and a great addition to my workshop."
He's looking forward to having more time for these pursuits and trying new ones, such as ice fishing, which he is squeezing in before the warmer spring days are here to stay. Though it's certainly an adjustment, he is ready to embrace retirement as fully as he did his career.
"I certainly have mixed emotions, I'll miss working with my staff and patients as well as interacting with colleagues and teaching," he says. "But I'm ready to see where this bend in the road takes me."