Dr. J. Bronwyn Bateman (RES ’78, FEL ’78), former professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, has made a generous contribution to UCLA in memory of her late husband. As a young resident at UCLA Stein Eye Institute, Dr. Bateman faced tragedy when her husband Roderick K. Smith was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, during his residency in orthopaedics at UCLA. He died after an 11-month battle with the disease.
While this could have derailed her career, sage advice from her Stein Eye advisor, Dr. Bradley Straatsma, founding director of the Stein Eye Institute and chairman of the UCLA Department of Ophthalmology, helped keep Dr. Bateman on track. “He called me in and asked what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. “I said I didn’t know. He suggested ophthalmic genetics. This was before DNA was harnessed to identify gene defects in hereditary diseases.” Dr. Bateman became board certified in both ophthalmology and medical genetics/clinical genetics. “Looking back, the professional opportunities offered by Dr. Straatsma and Dr. Bartly J. Mondino (current director of UCLA Stein Eye Institute and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology) were pivotal in my career,” she said.
During her time as a faculty member at UCLA, Dr. Bateman also became the first woman president of the American Association of University Professors, the organization for ophthalmology departments in the United States and Canada, and the president of the Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology.
Dr. Bateman thought about a gift to benefit Stein Eye for a long time. “I wanted to honor my first husband, who was not able to have a life and career,” she said. “By endowing a chair in his name, I gave him the legacy that he could not create. The key is creating a legacy at a quality institution that has a high level of integrity, and I think there is opportunity for people to do very nice things for their families here at UCLA.” She now is considering another gift to fund an endowed chair named after her mother and grandmother. “My grandmother was a Norwegian farm girl who married a physician,” Dr. Bateman said. “My mother graduated from medical school in 1941 and became a pediatrician while my father was busy with the U.S. military in the Pacific theater. She managed to work full time and raise five children.” Dr. Bateman also plans to create a nurses travel fund in honor of UCLA nurses Nan Fulton, Sue Yamada and Leonore Vogel, who were especially caring and helpful during her husband’s health issues and his passing.