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Richard ‘Dick’ Porter, former Chief Executive of Sightsavers and Director of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, died on 22 July 2022. He is survived by his wife, Sue Porter and their two daughters. As the head of Sightsavers, and a key partner in IAPB, Dick Porter played a crucial role in giving shape to VISION 2020: The Right to Sight. He was a much-loved manager and mentor with many admirers across the eye health sector.
Dick trained as an economist and had worked at KPMG as an international economist and management consultant . He took over the reins of SightSavers International from Alan Johns in 1994. He was at SightSavers for 11 years, as its Chief Executive, Dick successfully transformed the organization and mentored many people who went on to leadership positions across the sector. One of Dick’s crucial contributions to the sector was working with the Standard Chartered Bank to create and implement the Seeing is Believing programme initially at SightSavers and then under the aegis of IAPB. By the time it ended, Seeing is Believing transformed the sector by reaching out to over 250 million people and by fundraising over a 100 million dollars for eye care service delivery and training.
After his time at IAPB, Dick Porter chaired the UK arm of The Fred Hollows Foundation.
“Dick was a friend and mentor to many in the sector, and I am grateful to have known him, and worked with him,” said Joanna Conlon, Director of Communications and Development, IAPB. “He was always warm and clever. His natural warmth and good humour were crucial to building the IAPB alliance and bringing the sector closer together. Dick’s passion and commitment to eye health drew many of us to the sector. Today, there are many who will celebrate his memory and all that we did together.”
“Dick’s passing is a big loss to his many friends in the eye health sector, including in the UK,” noted Peter Holland, Chief Executive, IAPB. “Our sincere condolences to his family and friends”.
IAPB is collecting memories about Dick to share alongside this obituary, if you would like to add your own memory please email [email protected].
In the 1990’s and 2000’s Dick Porter (as CEO of Sightsavers), together with Bjorn Thylefors, Dr Para, Serge Resnikoff (from WHO); Christian Garms (CEO of CBM) and Hannah Faal and Nag Rao (IAPB), spent many long days in WHO meetings discussing and planning how to “Prevent Blindness”, which led to the Vision 2020 – right to sight initiative. Often these meetings in Geneva were followed by a drink and meal together in the evening which helped developed the close friendships and mutual trust which was so important in growing IAPB as an organisation and developing the VISION 2020 initiative. All this would not have happened without Dick’s support, participation and leadership.
Later, around 2005 Dick was responsible for convincing Standard Chartered Bank to start their corporate support for eye care, initially in Bangladesh with Sightsavers, and then in developing the Seeing is Believing programme to support VISION 2020 activities through IAPB.
By training and profession Dick was an economist having worked for KPMG. He decided to commit the last two decades of his working life to improve eye health and prevent unnecessary blindness in the poorest communities in the world. He was a highly intelligent man, yet humble, gentle and kind. It was really enjoyable to be in his company – a man of integrity and fun. It was my joy and a privilege to have worked with Dick.
It is with immense sadness that I have received the news of the passing of Dick Porter.
Dick was an outstanding executive and a leader, an astute observer of people and systems, an excellent planner and above all a great humanitarian with deep commitment to help those who are disadvantaged.
My association with him started over a quarter century ago, almost as soon as he took over the reins of Sightsavers International. I met him during his first visit to India in that role. We connected well immediately as we found significant alignment in the objectives of our organizations. His leadership put Sightsavers on an unprecedented trajectory of growth as its activities multiplied manyfold through his innovative strategies of resource mobilization and allocation. At L V Prasad Eye Institute, we were grateful for his support to some new programmes at that time that have evolved into effective models.
We got closer during the year of the initial launch of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight and the many meetings of various kinds in Geneva and elsewhere over the years. He was a very valuable member of these groups, helping in the development of strategies, planning and advocacy.
When I was leading IAPB, I had the good fortune of his support in running the organization through its growth and all the successes during the first decade of this century. He guided the organization through this phase with great success and I am forever indebted to him.
I have met his wife Susan during these years and have fond memories of her warm hospitality a couple of times in his back garden.
In the passing of Dick, the eye care world lost a great contributor to its progress throughout the world over the past three decades. Personally, I have lost a warm friend and a guide.
All of us at the LVPEI pray that Sue and his family be granted solace in the thoughts of his many deeds that touched millions of lives.
“Under Dick Porter’s leadership, Sightsavers, together with other international NGOs, were very generous in supporting the International Centre for Eye Health and in particular our research work on the prevention of blindness. This support enabled the staff of ICEH to move to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in 2002, and continue the work of training the next generation of eye care leaders in low-income settings through the Master’s programme, and undertaking research into the major blinding eye diseases particularly blindness in children and cataract.
Dick leaves a lasting legacy both in terms of the people who have gone on to lead prevention of blindness activities in their own countries, and the countless thousands whose sight has been saved or restored in some of the poorest countries in the world.”
International Centre for Eye Health
Memories from Pakistan
I first met Dick in 1994 when he visited Peshawar for an eye conference, a few years before I joined Sightsavers. He helped transition Sightsavers from a charity organisation to a more professionally structured one and well aligned with achievement of VISION 2020 – The Right to Sight, that was launched during his time.
He is especially remembered for the establishment of Sightsavers’ Pakistan Country Office and appointment of its first Country Representative (I was privileged to have been bestowed that honour); establishment of two leading ophthalmic institutions – Pakistan Institute of Community Ophthalmology (PICO) and Punjab Institute of Preventive Ophthalmology (PIPO) which later became the College of Ophthalmology and Allied Vision Sciences (COAVS); financial support towards the 2002-2004 prevalence of blindness survey in Pakistan; support to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd National Plans for Prevention and Control of Blindness; launch of the Seeing is Believing Programme in Pakistan; and for enhancing support to the Layton Rahmatulla Benevolent Trust (LRBT) which is the largest non-government provider of eye care services in Pakistan.
I recall with great respect his support to a fledgling Country Office in Pakistan and his strategic guidance through the years.
His passing away is truly a great loss to the eye health world. The Pakistan National Eye Health Programme (now the Pakistan National Integrated People-Centred Eye Care Programme) acknowledges and will always remember his contributions with grateful appreciation.
Please convey my heartfelt condolences to his family. Please also convey my condolences to all Sightsavers and IAPB staff who had the opportunity to work with him.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
Dr Haroon Awan