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Ophthalmology pioneer Walter J. Stark, MD, passes away at 81



After completing his residency at the Wilmer Eye Institute and a fellowship at NIH, Walter J. Stark, MD, returned to Wilmer for a 40-year career as a surgeon, teacher, researcher, and Boone Pickens Professor of Ophthalmology and chief of the Cornea Division.

Walter J. Stark, MD (Image credit: Johns Hopkins University)

Walter J. Stark, MD (Image credit: Johns Hopkins University)

Walter J. Stark, MD, one of the leaders in ophthalmology and a longtime professor at the Wilmer Eye Institute, has passed away. He was 81.

Stark was regarded as a pioneer in the area of corneal transplantation, as well as the use of the excimer laser, and intraocular lens implantation. He passed away February 29, 2024, in Sarasota, Florida, surrounded by family, according to Legacy.com.

Peter J. McDonnell, MD, director of the Wilmer Eye Institute at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and co-chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times, noted that Stark was a leader in the field of cornea and external disease.

McDonnell noted that after completing his residency at the Wilmer Institute and a fellowship at NIH, he returned to Wilmer for a 40-year career as a surgeon, teacher, researcher and Boone Pickens Professor of Ophthalmology and chief of the Cornea Division.

“He published about 500 papers in peer-reviewed journals, chaired the FDA’s Ophthalmic Devices Advisory Panel, helped lead the Collaborate Corneal Transplantation Studies (CCTS) that showed that HLA matching was not necessary in the setting of corneal transplantation and trained generations of young surgeons,” McDonnell said. “He is remembered fondly by his former trainees and colleagues, as well as the many thousands of patients who benefited from his clinical and surgical expertise."

Stark graduated from the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1967. After completing his residency and fellowship, he eventually would join the faculty at Wilmer in 1973. He was appointed professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins and director of the Corneal and Cataract Services of Wilmer in 1982.

Stark’s talents earned him accolades from his peers, and he was proud to mentor his residents and fellows, many of whom today are among the leaders in the field of ophthalmology.

Stark in 2004 was recognized for his achievements with the dedication and naming of the Walter J. Stark, MD, and Margaret C. Mosher Center for Cataract and Corneal Diseases.1

According to the biography, the center was created from a donation from Stark’s longtime friend and former patient, the late Margaret C. Mosher.

Stark, who retired in 2015, received the Life Achievement Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology that same year. He served as the medical director of the Medical Eye Bank of Maryland and served as the director of the Medical Board of Directors at Tissue Banks International. He was instrumental in the growth of both organizations.1

Born August 21, 1942, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Stark graduated from Harding High School in 1960, where he excelled at swimming, earning a state title.

According to an obituary in the Legacy.com, Stark is survived by his wife of 60 years, Polly, and children Heather Stark, Walter J. Stark III (Jay), Melissa Stark Lilley, and grandchildren Matthew, Christopher, and Emma Anderson; Walter J. IV (Jack) and Henry Stark; Mikey, Jackson, Clara, and Clemmie Lilley; and his siblings Penny Replogle, Susan Moorman and Jeff Moorman. He is pre-deceased by his parents, his second mother Mary Lou Stark, brother Stephen Stark, and sister Debbie White.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in honor of Walter J. Stark, MD, to the University of Florida Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, PO BOX 100243, Gainesville, Florida 32610. Donations will be used for research and treatment of Parkinson's Disease.2


1. Stewardship, Baltimore DE 3400 NCS, Relations A. Walter J. Stark Chair in Ophthalmology - Named Deanships, Directorships, and Professorships. Published July 11, 2016. Accessed March 2, 2024. https://professorships.jhu.edu/professorship/walter-j-stark-chair-in-ophthalmology/#:~:text=Stark-
2. Walter Stark Obituary (2024) - Baltimore, MD - Baltimore Sun. Legacy.com. Accessed March 3, 2024. https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/baltimoresun/name/walter-stark-obituary?id=54522314
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