John Gair Robson is shortly to celebrate his 80th birthday, and it is fitting that BriSCEV, of which he has been a loyal member, should mark that occasion by making him an honorary member.

John took his degrees – MA in Natural Sciences, then a PhD in Neurophysiology, and later a Doctor of Science at Cambridge University, where he worked for 33 years. He is a basic vision scientist, who worked at first on visual perception and neurophysiology. With Denis Pelli, he designed the Pelli-Robson letter chart; the 1988 publication describing it has been cited over a thousand times. Its aesthetic appeal is such that a copy is kept in the archive of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Denis Pelli also did his PhD at Cambridge University, and John examined his thesis, in which Denis Pelli noted “John G. Robson always seemed to know how an experiment would turn out, as though he had already done it years ago. He showed me … how to approach any problem with the conviction that it can be solved without a degree in the specialty.

In 1990, John’s work turned to electrophysiology and he began a long and fruitful collaboration with Professor Laura Frishman. Laura writes:

“It is a pleasure to send very best wishes to John Robson on the occasion of his upcoming 80th birthday. John has had enormous impact on the field of vision science. He taught vision scientists how to use linear systems analysis and sinusoidal gratings to characterize the early stages of visual processing with highly cited publications, initially with work on humans with his mentor and colleague Fergus Campbell, and then in visual neurons in collaboration with the recently deceased Christina Enroth-Cugell. His work with Christina at Northwestern University, Illinois, led to the ARVO Friedenwald award in 1983; he has received numerous honours since then.

“Fortunately for those of us with interest in increasing the utility in the clinic and the lab of the electroretinogram, John began to study and produce models of the cellular origins of the ERG, and to apply it to studying basic visual processes. This work was done mainly in my (his) laboratory at the University of Houston in Texas. I met John when I was a postdoc in Christina Enroth-Cugell’s lab, and learned that if I wanted to be sure that I was right about something, I should seek corrective input from John. In fact when I began publishing on the ERG in Roy Steinberg’s lab, John was generously telling me what was “not quite right” about my papers even without my asking him. In Houston, our collaborative work profited enormously from his creative and critical input on everything from instrumentation, calibration and analysis, to design and execution of experiments. The honorary membership that BriSCEV is bestowing on John to commemorate his 80th birthday (almost), indicates that some members of the society may also have benefited from his unique and generous contributions.”

In comparison to being made a Life Fellow of Gonville & Caius College, a Professor at the University of Houston, a Fellow of the Optical Society of America, a Fellow of the Royal Society, an ARVO Freidenwald awardee and recipient of the Tillyer medal, being made BriSCEV’s first honorary member may be a little overwhelming for John. But Laura is correct – BriSCEV has indeed benefited from John’s contributions, and it gives us great pleasure to show our appreciation with honorary membership.

We have a second honorary membership to award this evening, this one is to Professor Colin Barber.

Colin improved the health and care of thousands of patients during his NHS career in clinical sciences where he was a Consultant Clinical Scientist in the Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, Director of the Visual Electrophysiology Laboratory and Head of Medical Physics. His remarkable academic contribution includes innovative, objective techniques to explore visual field measurements with the mfVEP, a long publication list including eight books, an extensive program of invited lectures, a professorial chair, and fellowships of the Institute of Physics and of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine. His close Nottingham collaborator, ophthalmologist and ISCEV president Nick Galloway says this of him: “He had a way of making complex ideas seem simple. He has earned my great respect over the years.” This fruitful collaboration was at the forefront of the scientist-clinician partnership, which is now a key aspect of clinical electrophysiology of vision: the innovation and empiricism of the scientist coupled with the patient-focus and medical expertise of the clinician ultimately benefits patient care.

That would be enough for many people. But Colin has made a second major impact; this on the next generation of scientists to whom he has given decades of encouragement, mentoring and supervising. His friend from physics undergraduate days, Professor Francis Duck, notes “His judgement was always acute and fair, whilst he remained intolerant of poor standards of science or performance. There are very few colleagues who have combined leadership in NHS clinical care, an international scientific reputation and a significant contribution to the training of clinical scientists”. Colin was in the vanguard of understanding the importance of clinical scientists to the future of the NHS, and 14 years ago, he founded BriSCEV as the national professional body for clinical electrophysiology of vision. Many people here will remember the optimism and enthusiasm at the inaugural 2003 meeting in Nottingham; even more may remember the bizarre but very funny murder mystery performed by actors as part of our evening entertainment. BriSCEV now carries influence in the national bodies for Healthcare Science.

That would be more than enough for very many people. But Colin’s worldwide reputation is partly due to his 30 year association with ISCEV. He has been on the Board of ISCEV almost continuously since 1992, and was Secretary-General with two Presidents. One of those, Professor Yozo Miyake says of him: “ISCEV is one of the most prominent international societies in ophthalmology, largely due to Professor Barber’s dedication; he has supported the society and worked as a missionary to increase awareness of clinical electrophysiology worldwide, including the developing regions.” ISCEV honoured Colin with the Adachi Award in 2006, and with Honorary Membership in 2012. There is no ISCEV Award for inexplicable adjustment of points scored at the ISCEV Olympics, but if there were, Colin would have won that too.

He is a genius at steering people to a particular decision which they then believe to be entirely their own. His diplomatic skills could settle international conflicts – and sometimes have. His tact and charm guides and stimulates the best from those around him. He can create constructive and cordial interactions between people from different cultures and backgrounds. His influence and leadership have a worldwide impact, but particularly so in the UK arena of clinical visual electrophysiology. Quite simply, we would not be here if it wasn’t for him, and it gives us great pleasure to show our appreciation with honorary membership.