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Professor Luigina Sorbara – IACLE Tributes

IACLE colleagues pay their tributes to Professor Gina Sorbara

Professor Luigina (Gina, to most of us) Sorbara was first and foremost an educator in every sense of the word. She embodied the role of a Professor with grace and leadership, continually reinventing herself as the field of optometry expanded. Her passion was in the area of contact lenses, sharing her knowledge for nearly 40 years at the University of Waterloo, School of Optometry. She was involved in didactic courses, laboratories, clinical research as well as the contact lens clinic where she would transfer her knowledge to improve patient care. She was at the cutting edge of contact lens prescribing, teaching future eyecare professionals the art of soft, gas permeable, keratoconic, presbyopic and scleral lens fitting.
Over the years, she collaborated with so many colleagues from around the world to enhance the contact lens field through an impressive array of publications, presentations, workshops and conferences. One of her passions was enhancing contact lens education on a global scale, teaming up with the Center for Contact Lens Research Unit in Australia (now the Brien Holden Vision Institute), the Centre for Ocular Research and Education (CORE) at Waterloo, and the International Association of Contact Lens Educators (IACLE) where she became intimately involved at the executive committee level for many years. With IACLE, she volunteered countless hours to participate and advocate for contact lens education where it was most needed, often travelling to China, Philippines and India, to name a few.
On a more personal note, Professor Sorbara was my teacher (many years ago) and since, she became a colleague, a mentor and a friend, sharing with me some of the challenges of academic life. She was omnipresent at all the major contact lens meetings and was a reassuring presence for many of us who were starting our careers. She was a role model for many women that professional and family life could strike a successful balance. She often shared, at meetings, her family’s successes and her proud Italian roots.
She was truly a dedicated educator and a formidable ambassador for Waterloo and contact lens education. She leaves an incredible legacy for optometric education; one of dedication, mentorship, leadership and unselfish devotion to optometry and contact lens education, inspiring several generations of optometrists, that will outlast her life’s work. Thank you Gina!’

Professor Etty Bitton, IACLE Treasurer

The passing of a unique and productive individual invariably leaves gaps in their chosen field, society generally, and of course their family. As well, their absence gives rise to unmet needs, sadness, and ultimately an opportunity for another to fill, at least partially, the void they leave behind. The latter is a huge ask when Professor Gina Sorbara is that absent individual. She was a person like no other, she was in places more often than most others. She was often ‘roped in’ at the last minute to fulfill commitments accepted by others who were unable to deliver for whatever reason life threw in their path. That was Gina. Fortunately for all concerned, her role in life was understood all too well by her family, her employer, and her numerous colleagues and that usually meant the lasso snared the good professor and she was off to some remote part of the world at short notice.
Professionally, she was something of a chameleon because she wore various masks that might have identified her as a contact lens practitioner dealing with challenging cases (think keratoconus, toric RGP CLs, topographically challenged corneas, and children). She was a contact lens educator, a contact lens researcher, a mentor to a contact lens educator at home or anywhere else in the world, or the most senior academic admissions officer in the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science. It is probable that at times she was two or more of those possibilities, concurrently. She was the head of the contact lens clinic at Waterloo from 1984 until her eventual retirement in mid-2020. In addition to her Optometric Doctorate (OD) and a master’s degree (MSc), she held Fellowships from the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) and the British Contact Lens Association and was a Research Diplomate in the Cornea, Contact Lenses, and Refractive Technologies Section of the AAO. She was also involved deeply with AOCLE (an organization that is some 5 years older than IACLE), not just IACLE, thereby ensuring no corner of the world was left untouched by her magic wand. Most recently (mid-2020), she was awarded IACLE’s Lifetime Achievement Award for services to the organization and contact lens education worldwide over an extended period. The LAA is awarded rarely, and Gina joins other recent recipients Professor Des Fonn (Canada, 2015) and Professor Deborah Sweeney (Australia, 2017). Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic meant that Gina’s award could not be presented in person as would have been most fitting. Instead, to accompany the award announcement, a video tribute to the awardee was produced by IACLE that included cameo appearances by its executives and senior members. The video also incorporated a large number of photographs taken of Gina in education mode in various parts of the world, especially India, the Philippines, and China, countries where her footprint was most often left. It is believed that Gina was also the longest serving IACLE Executive Board member. That is no mean achievement given the involvement of long-term stalwarts such as the late Professor Brien Holden, Professor Des Fonn, and Professor Debbie Sweeney. Tributes to Gina include telling words such as methodical, generous, accommodating, and selfless.
Gina’s involvement in IACLE’s endeavours spans most of the organization’s 42 years of operation and included all the IACLE World Congresses, 1994, 2000, 2015. Her activities were characterized by enthusiasm, an indefatigable drive to contribute, an uncanny ability to convey her message with clarity and within practical time frames, and an innate ability to relate to students and educators regardless of their native language, their level of knowledge, or their age. She was always a reliable reviewer of IACLE’s Fellowship Exam drafts
The wider significance of Gina’s absence from Waterloo, IACLE, and various parts of the contact lens world outside North America will be felt or realized fully once a ‘new’ COVID normal is achieved, and international travel is recommenced at some practical level. It is probable that more than one person will be required to fill the shoes left behind by Dr Gina Sorbara such is the depth and breadth of the roles she filled during her lifetime. Our sympathies go out to her family for their huge loss – she will be remembered for a long time to come and we will all be reminded of our collective losses each and every time someone thinks ‘where is Gina when you need her?’

Dr Lewis Williams, Former IACLE Manager of Educational Development

I remember meeting Gina for the first time I think in Berlin at an ERS meeting – we were both pregnant with our first children – neither of us really knowing how this next step in our lives was going to play out for our careers, our aspirations. It was a bond that lasted between us. I know how much her husband and kids meant to her and how terribly proud she was of both of her children. A terrible tragedy that she won’t share the next 20 or 30 years with them.
Gina Sorbara joined IACLE over 30 years ago, many as a valued member of IACLE’s Executive Team where she served as Treasurer. She made huge contributions to all of IACLE programs and helping to guide its vision and strategy. As a dedicated and caring contact lens educator and researcher, Gina contributed to the development and content of the Contact Lens Course, the Distance Learning Program, the Students Trial Exam, and the Fellowship Exam. She supported IACLE Fellows who spent significant time with her in Canada gaining firsthand experience and insights into her approach to clinical education and research. She participated in Train-the-Trainer programs as well as IACLE’s educational meetings across Latin America, Asia Pacific and Europe. She was a much sought-after educator across IACLE’s network, and she shared her wisdom and approaches willingly to clinical education and RGPs in particular. Gina spent significant time for IACLE working with educators in the Philippines, where I know she transformed the lives of many educators and students through her passion for contact lens education and her mentorship.
I and many of our colleagues around the world have fond memories of Gina as an educator, a researcher, as an advocate, and as a mentor, but most importantly as a friend.’

Professor Deborah Sweeney, Former IACLE President

Gina was a co-author, collaborator, a graduate student, co-executive member of IACLE, co-examiner and educator of contact lenses at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Waterloo, researcher and integral member of the Centre for Contact Lens Research and most of all a dear friend. Will be sorely missed by so many.’

Professor Des Fonn, Former IACLE Vice-President

10 Replies to “Professor Luigina Sorbara – IACLE Tributes”

  1. I am so thankfully for the fond memories I have of Gina. Of times we were room buddies at various IACLE events in the US and UK. I have fond memories of showing Gina some Sydney sites when she was last in town. Gina was so easy to talk to, a great storyteller and a very proud mother. I offer my deepest condolences to her family and friends.

  2. I think I first met Gina at the first IACLE World Congress in Waterloo in 1994; she was a top contact lens educator and researcher. Such was her enthusiasm for our field, she devoted many hours, days and weeks to IACLE in order to extend our educational mission as widely as possible. I’m very sad she is no longer here to continue steer the Association. Her ideas and passion will be very sorely missed.

  3. Since I first met her I have held in high regard Gina’s vast knowledge and superb teaching skills. But Gina’s other attribute for me was her fashion choice, which was always so unusual and stylish. I met her through IACLE, to which she gave such service, and we would see each other at the BCLA or around the world. I distinctly remember once in the US her efforts to promote the work of IACLE to an AOCLE seminar, which apparently she did at every meeting. Gina was a humble person; but one that obviously gave so much to her students. She will be sorely missed and my sympathy goes out to her family for their loss at an age when she still had so much more to give.

  4. Gina was a great mentor for me, a great colleague and most of all for me i use to idealise her as a perfect educator. Her students should absolutely feel proud that they have been educated by her. An educator par excellence. She loved her family, she loved her children and was very very proud of them as well and rightly so!!! We presented together at sessions recently and she was absolutely supportive and would kind of say…..”you need to lead and I will stay behind” an amazing aspect of somebody who would mentor you!!!!
    Miss her….miss her…..miss her

  5. Today is international women’s day- how apt to remember an internationally recognized and respected lady. Gina’s voice was a befitting manifestation of her energy and passion. Her dedication to contact lens education was unparalleled. She was so kind to me as a newbie in the IACLE team and made me feel comfortable thru’ our easy going conversations. I miss her already and I am sure that there would be so many around the world with the same sentiments. Hope she is in peace as she can be very proud of the legacy she has left behind…

  6. I didn’t know that Gina was sick so this message comes as a shock to me! I’ve met Gina at several IACLE conferences and meetings and I was always impressed by her enthusiasm for our wonderful contact lens profession. Her family and IACLE will have to miss a wonderful and dedicated women. I feel really sorry that she has passed away so early. I wish her family much power and strength in the coming future without their beloved Gina.

  7. Gina was an exceptional person. A gifted researcher, an inspiring teacher, an outstanding colleague and a proud parent, she excelled in all that she did. For close to 40 years, Gina was a regular fixture at contact lens meetings around the world, presenting her research, educating her peers and making new friends. Yet alongside her success and distinction in the contact lens field, she remained as modest and approachable as ever. Through her work with IACLE, a generation of students worldwide benefited from Gina’s remarkable teaching skills and enthusiasm for sharing her knowledge. She was always the first to step forward when help was needed. Gina made a huge contribution to her profession and her influence will continue to be felt for many years to come.

  8. Our professional ties extended to personal ties over the last 30 years i have known this great person. The first time i met her was when she was pregnant in 1991 at an AOCLE conference in Ohio where she and Prof Des Fonn invited me to swing to Canada for a quick tour of the school for which i obliged- a decision I will never ever regret. Last time we saw each other was at the ISSCL in Rome Italy where she is the Keynote Speaker. I miss you everyday, Gina.

  9. Truly sad for Professor Gina Sorbara’s passing. I have been an IACLE member since 1992 and witnessed how throughout all these years Professor Gina always contributed to the improvement of contact lens educators’ professional skills, specially those born in Colombia. Her joyful spirit, her generosity when sharing her knowledge and wisdom, as well as her great humanness keep her present amongst us and shall always remain within those who had the honor to learn from her. My eternal gratitude for her friendship.

  10. Truly sad for Professor Gina Sorbara’s passing. I have been an IACLE member since 1992 and witnessed how throughout all these years Professor Gina always contributed to the improvement of contact lens educators’ professional skills, specially those born in Colombia. Her joyful spirit, her generosity when sharing her knowledge and wisdom, as well as her great humanness keep her present amongst us and shall always remain within those who had the honor to learn from her. My eternal gratitude for her friendship.

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