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1975 - 1979

NVRI needed a full-time Director

During the early years of the Institute, funds were scarce and a full-time Director of Research could not be appointed. Dr Barry Cole, Director of the Australian College of Optometry, was acting Director of the NVRI in its first years. The Victorian Government was approached in 1975 and it agreed to a grant of $125,000 over five years to support the initial appointment of a director on the understanding that its grant would be matched dollar for dollar from other sources.

Lions International to the rescue 1976

Lions International was asked to help, and help was enthusiastically forthcoming. In 1976 six Districts of Lions International District 201 V1 to V6 agreed to build a permanent endowment fund, the Lions Vision Research Fund, for the benefit of NVRI. Contributions from Lions clubs flowed in and it became possible to appoint a full-time Director. The Lions Vision Research Fund was formally established in February 1979 and continues to provide support for the NVRI every year. The key Lions in this endeavor were past Lions District Governors Donald Diamond (pictured) and Eric Black.

Lions have also been generous in their support of the NVRI through the Victorian Lions Foundation in more recent years.

Lions have been represented on the NVRI Board since 1977.

NVRI gets a full-time Director 1978

Dr Donald E. Mitchell was appointed the first director of the Institute in 1978.

Donald Mitchell
Dr Donald Mitchell

He had qualified in optometry at the University of Melbourne and had completed his PhD under Professor Gerald Westheimer FRS at the University of California at Berkeley and had subsequently worked with Professor WAH Rushton FRS of Cambridge University. He had already made his name for his research on the post-natal development of vision at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.


He immediately set a new course for the NVRI to focus its research on the nature and biological origins of the various developmental disorders of vision, including amblyopia. He made clear that real advances in understanding of the disorders of vision had to be deeply founded in vision science. His program of research involved investigations at several levels including psychophysical studies on human clinical populations, animal behavioural studies complemented by neuro-physiological studies on the visual pathways and cortex.

Jack Pettigrew and a Min Min light (Pic: University of Queensland)
Dr Jack Pettigrew and a Min Min light (Pic: University of Queensland)

Donald Mitchell recruited Dr John D. "Jack" Pettigrew to the NVRI to pursue the neuro-physiological research, while he lead the clinical and animal behavioural studies.

It was a productive period that yielded over 35 publications. By 1980 the NVRI had 6 current NHMRC research grants. Donald Mitchell’s approach for the NVRI of embedding the study of clinical vision problems in fundamental vision science continues to the present day.


Dr Mitchell resigned in 1980 to return to Canada, where he became Professor of Psychology at Dalhousie University. Jack Pettigrew took over as Acting Director until a new Director could be appointed and the NVRI continued to flourish under his leadership.

The Schultz, Laubman, Schultz gift 1979

In 1979 South Australian optometrist Donald Schultz, with his wife Joyce and cousin Eulalie Laubman, donated $250,000 for the benefit of the NVRI. It was the foundation for creating the Schultz, Laubman, Schultz Endowment fund to which the estates of Donald and Joyce Schultz added a further $3.5 million in 2001. This permanent endowment provides very important core funding of the NVRI.

Donald and Joyce Shultz
Donald and Joyce Shultz

The members of the College Council act as trustees to the NVRI Governors Endowment Trust Fund and the Schultz Laubman Schultz Endowment Trust Fund.


The 80s and 90s >