By Kristi Garrett
Whether it was on the floor of the House of Delegates of the American Optometric Association or in the close confines of an exam room, Harue Marsden, OD, MS, ’87 was impossible to miss. As everyone who knew her will attest, her booming voice and irrepressible laughter made her a force to be reckoned with.
“She was not shy about expressing herself and taking someone on, yet she treated everyone with respect,” said AOA President Andrea P. Thau, OD. “She was a champion of optometry and for our patients and our students.”
Dr. Harue Marsden may have lost her battle with cancer on Feb. 2, 2017, but her legacy of leadership, advocacy and mentorship leaves the profession and those who knew her enriched for the experience.
A 1987 graduate of the Southern California College of Optometry, Dr. Marsden completed a residency and master’s degree at the University of Houston College of Optometry and then joined the SCCO faculty in 1989. Over the course of her almost 30-year career she ultimately became associate dean of clinical education at Ketchum University, watching over the progress of students in the clinical program — a role that well suited her, said long-time friend and colleague, Julie Schornack, OD, MEd, senior vice president and chief of staff at Ketchum.
“If you had someone who was struggling, Harue would be the one to structure the program to try to constructively help them out of the weaknesses they might be having as a clinician. That completely played to her strengths,” said Dr. Schornack. “Over and over again people talk about how they were mentored by her. It wasn’t one, but hundreds, quite frankly, and she did this for close to 30 years.”
Dr. Marsden also operated two private practice offices, with Eric Leser , OD, and Vicki Leung, OD, who said Harue believed employees should be nurtured and taught, especially if they were having trouble on the job: “She’d ask, ‘Vicki, have we given them all the tools they need to do their job the best they can?’”
Everywhere they went, such as conferences and trade shows, “people flocked to her like she was the Pied Piper. They just wanted to be near her,” Leung said. “She had a way of making you feel significant, because if she was speaking to you, she was also listening intently and she remembered everything you said.”
A woman of extreme energy and passion, over the years Dr. Marsden devoted herself to leadership positions in the California Optometric Association and Orange County Optometric Society, the national American Optometric Association and American Academy of Optometry, the Great Western Council of Optometry and Association of Optometric Contact Lens Educators. As COA president she ferried the association through a contentious battle over board certification for optometrists. “It really forms you as a leader when you go through those tough times,” said Dr. Schornack.
Dr. Marsden’s legacy is a generation of optometry professionals who are patientcentered, academically prepared, politically astute and better doctors because of Harue’s mentorship, said Glenda Secor, OD, FAAO, who is immediate past chair of the Ketchum University Board of Trustees, Diplomate in Cornea and Contact Lens and communications chair of the American Academy of Optometry.
During the years she volunteered to serve AAO, Dr. Marsden’s contributions spanned from work on various committees and special interest groups, to teaching leadership, to diplomate award chair, where she helped candidates to demonstrate their expertise in order to qualify for extra distinction within the profession. “She was inspiring to so many colleagues because of her enthusiasm and she was just always fun to be around,” said Dr. Secor, pointing to Harue’s uncanny ability to wear a number of hats at the same time. “Regardless of issues that were clinically significant or clinically compromising, she was able to bring a collective voice in being more collaborative.”
The California Optometric Association President Stevin Minie, OD, wrote an eloquent tribute to Dr. Marsden: “Undoubtedly, many of you reading this message are a better doctor of optometry having been mentored or befriended by Harue. She probably had no greater passion than the next generation of optometry, her students, imparting her vast knowledge, infinite wisdom and relentless advocacy of the extensive ophthalmic skills doctors of optometry bring to patients.”
Ketchum University President Kevin Alexander, OD, PhD, noted Harue’s dedication over the years, recalling “she was engaged in everything, whether it was patient care, teaching, advancing the profession or engaging in her love for travel. Her friendly intensity was a force of nature. Harue was someone you definitely wanted on your team and someone you always wanted to be with.”
For example, Dr. Thau added, among the many positions Dr. Marsden held on AOA committees was the Evidence-Based Optometry Committee, charged with developing clinical practice guidelines for the profession. “Members of that committee need to be very thoughtful, intelligent, hardworking people who can comb through all the research and data and compile clinical practice guidelines based on the strength of the research while working as a team to develop them,” said Dr. Thau. “It takes an incredible amount of time and effort and she always did it gladly.”
The fact that Dr. Marsden was on so many AOA committees is testament to the high regard with which she was held, said Dr. Thau. “Everyone loved Harue. She could discuss and debate things with you, but she treated everybody with respect and always had the best interests of our patients and our profession at heart. I think it was because of that that she was such a great role model to the students and to our colleagues.”
Dr. Alexander added, “I first met Harue about 15 years ago in the House of Delegates at the American Optometric Association. I was presenting a controversial issue on behalf of the AOA Board. I remember that there were many vocal opponents and Harue was one of them. During a break as I stepped away from the podium, Harue came right at me and she said, ‘you really might want to consider these points,’ as she handed me a sheet of paper, ‘it will make your argument stronger.’ I was overwhelmed by her honesty, integrity and her ability to make me feel good about the process that day. To me, that was her special gift.”
Despite her fervent professionalism, Harue never missed an opportunity to be silly, noted Dr. Schornack, telling of the countless times Harue taught children to hang spoons on their faces, eat “see food” and ignore table etiquette with abandon. Her laugh — loud and infectious — was prone to get her in trouble with restaurant managers. In fact, she was once asked to leave for having too much fun — at a comedy club.
Harue and her sisters — twin Midori, Yuki and Fumi — and brother Akira grew up in the San Diego area, the children of a Marine Korean War veteran and a Japanese mother, Bruce and Fujiko Marsden.
Nicknamed “Evil Hands” by her mother because she broke so many things, Harue learned early to put things back together, said her sister Yuki. “She was just always into things.”
But she was quick to forget an offense, always looking for the best in others, and had the gift of gab and a fabulous laugh that would crack others up, said Yuki, confirming that all it took to locate Harue in a crowd was to stop and listen. “She always had a happy, positive vibe.”
Harue’s love of travel was legendary, often journeying with friends and sister Yuki to adventurous locales such as Peru, Japan, South Africa, Zambia and beyond.
Yuki attributed their adventurous spirit to their father: “My dad loved to travel, and I think we both inherited that gene of loving to travel and loving to explore new cultures and try new things.”
“She never let anything stop her; she lived life to the fullest,” said AOA’s Dr. Thau. “I think the lesson we have to learn from her is to cherish every day and do as much as you can while you’re here … and don’t be shy about making lots of noise advocating for what is right.”
That’s what brought Harue the most happiness, agreed Dr. Schornack — seeing others succeed and assume leadership positions. “It’s kind of a legacy of leadership,” she said. “A legacy of achievement.”
To make a contribution to the Dr. Harue J. Marsden Memorial Fund, please visit ketchum.edu/giving.