Ophthalmology faculty member dies at 76

William Woodson Dawson, M.S., Ph.D.

William Woodson Dawson, M.S., Ph.D., a devoted faculty member in the department of ophthalmology for 45 years whose innovative approach to eye disease research and ocular electrophysiology testing was highly regarded, passed away Thursday, March 11, after an extended illness. He was 76.

Dr. Dawson, professor emeritus of ophthalmology, physiology and neuroscience, joined the College of Medicine faculty in 1965, recruited by then-ophthalmology chairman Dr. Herbert Kaufman to establish an electrophysiology testing service and conduct research into blinding eye disease. He administered the clinical electrophysiology testing unit in the Ophthalmology Eye Clinic for 35 years. In addition to his appointment in ophthalmology, Dr. Dawson also held joint or courtesy appointments in the departments of physiology, neuroscience, veterinary ophthalmology and psychology. He was an honorary faculty member at the University of Puerto Rico.

“Bill was a credit to the University of Florida, the College of Medicine and the department of ophthalmology,” said Dr. William Driebe, ophthalmology chairman. “His decades of basic science research into vision and eye disease led to creative approaches in defining their underlying causes. He will be missed by his many friends, students, fellows and colleagues.”

Dr. Dawson was born in Nashville, Tenn., in 1933. He received his B.A. from Vanderbilt University and his M.S. and Ph.D. in psychology and physiology from Florida State University, and was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Donner Laboratory of Biophysics at the University of California at Berkeley. His early research in sensory radiology was conducted while a senior research psychologist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Laboratory in Fort Knox, Ky. He joined the faculty at Auburn University for several years and was a John F. Kennedy Fellow at Peabody College in Nashville, Tenn., before joining the faculty at UF.

Dr. Dawson devoted most of his 45 years at UF to basic research into vision and eye disease. His career has been characterized by innovation and creativity in his approach to his research program and to the clinical electrophysiology unit. He investigated most of the major blinding eye diseases using novel approaches to defining their underlying causes. Most recently he spent much of his time developing the first naturally occurring primate animal models for several eye diseases, including glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

Dr. Dawson has been active in collaboration with scientists around the nation and the world. He was a member of the American Physiological Society and of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of numerous other associations and academies. He received the North Florida Lions Foundation Eye Research Award and the Adachi Award and Lecture from the International Society for Clinical Electrophysiology of Vision. Dr. Dawson published more than 250 papers in scientific journals and made more than 150 presentations at scientific meetings, both nationally and internationally.

In addition to his research, Dr. Dawson taught and mentored graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from physiology, psychology, veterinary medicine and other disciplines, many of whom now hold faculty positions in universities around the world, including UF, the University of Texas, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Miami, the U.S. Army Research Office and the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine in Israel.

Dr. Dawson is survived by his beloved wife of 20 years, Judyth Corey Dawson, and his three daughters, Angela Vaziri, Alameda, Calif.; Diana Bedell and her husband, Brian, Gainesville; and Jude Dawson, Gainesville; stepdaughter, Sandra Frankenberger and stepson, Dr. Mark Frankenberger, and his wife, Dr. Alison Frankenberger; and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at First Presbyterian Church, 300 SW Second Ave., Gainesville on Saturday, March 20 at 10:30 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to either the Dawson Music Scholarship Fund, at 106 S.W. Third St., Gainesville, FL 32601, which benefits select music students at Santa Fe College and the University of Florida; the North Florida Lions Eye Foundation, 7812 Blakeford Mill Lane, Jacksonville, FL 32256; or Micanopy Historical Society, P. O. Box 75, Micanopy, FL 32667.