Obituary: David H. Rhodes / Fox Chapel ophthalmologist had long career

Jan. 16, 1927 - Feb 1, 2014

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David H. Rhodes, a distinguished neuro-ophthalmologist, longtime Fox Chapel resident and co-author of a classic text on anesthesia during eye surgery, died Saturday at a hospice in Duluth, Ga., of complications from Parkinson's Disease. He was 87.

Quiet, industrious, dedicated to his work and his patients, Dr. Rhodes, a McKeesport native, had a 50-year career in the relatively small subspecialty of neuro-ophthalmology, which deals with visual problems involving the central nervous system, including brain tumors, myasthenia gravis or strokes that affect vision.

It is close, delicate work involving surgery of the eye muscles and the optic nerves, and at one point he was one of only three neuro-ophthalmologists in Western Pennsylvania, said his son Tom Rhodes of Peachtree Corners, Ga.

He grew up in McKeesport, graduating from McKeesport High School in 1945, the same year he was drafted into the Navy. He served on the USS Appalachian until 1947, returning to attend the University of Pittsburgh. He graduated in 1949 and received his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1953.

He completed his residency in ophthalmology at the Edward Harkness Eye Institute at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology in 1959.

Early in his career Dr. Rhodes co-authored, with Deryk Duncalf, a well-reviewed text for medical students, "Anesthesia in Clinical Ophthalmology," which "does an admirable job" laying out basic precepts for using anesthesia in eye surgery, according to a review published in the June 1964 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Rhodes served on the medical staffs of Mercy Hospital, St. Francis Hospital and St. Margaret's Hospital. From 1980 to 1994, he was the chief of the Division of Ophthalmology at Mercy Hospital.

Active in teaching, Dr. Rhodes was a clinical assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Dr. Rhodes grew up around ophthalmologists -- his father, David Rhodes Sr., was one, and was delighted when it appeared that his son would follow in his footsteps. The father and son both attended the Eye Institute in New York for their residencies -- albeit decades apart -- and planned to open a practice together in Pittsburgh after David Jr. finished his residency, but David Rhodes Sr. died before that could happen.

The oldest of three, he was active in the school band and choir and a diligent student.

"He was very serious, but he was also funny," said his sister Mary Jane Wilson of Beaver. "My sister was reminding me that when he was baby-sitting us, when it was time to go to bed, he'd get out his trombone and play taps on it."

In 1994, Dr. Rhodes joined the Everett & Hurite Ophthalmic Association, where he practiced until his retirement in May 2008. "He kept working until his health made it impossible," Tom Rhodes said. "He was really passionate about serving his patients."

"I think he was one of only two or three neuro-ophthalmologists in Western Pennsylvania," he added. "Dad was really interested in the brain's interaction with vision."

He was married twice, first to Claire Large Rhodes, with whom he had three sons. Together they were active in the First Presbyterian Church, Downtown, where he taught Sunday School. After she died in 1976, he married Jolene Miller Rhodes, who died in 2005.

Once it became clear he had to retire, Dr. Rhodes had the satisfaction of seeing one final case come to closure, Tom Rhodes said. "He had treated a young man and made the diagnosis of a brain tumor. It was removed, and the boy did very well afterward."

Besides his son and sister, Dr. Rhodes is survived by two other sons, David H. Rhodes, III, of Rancho Murieta, Calif., and the Rev. Paul Rhodes, of Chapel Hill, N.C., and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Friends may call from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Weddell-Ajak Funeral Home, 100 Center Ave., Aspinwall.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, 320 Sixth Ave., Downtown.

The family suggests a donation to the Ligonier Camp and Conference Center, 188 Macartney Lane, Ligonier, Pa., 15658.


Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.

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