Dr. James E. Comber

Oph­thal­mol­o­gist was co-founder of an eval­u­a­tion pro­gram for students at the Mary­land School for the Blind

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Frederick N. Ras­mussen fras­mussen@balt­sun.com

Dr. James E. Comber, a Bal­ti­more oph­thal­mol­o­gist who helped es­tab­lish a pro­gram at the Mary­land School for the Blind for chil­dren, died Satur­day of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land St. Joseph Med­i­cal Cen­ter. The Stoneleigh res­i­dent was 62. “You couldn’t find a nicer per­son. Jim was both pleas­ant and kind and the con­sum­mate sur­geon,” said Dr. Gregory J. Sopho­cleus, a semire­tired Tow­son oph­thal­mol­o­gist. “His pa­tients loved him, and he joked with them to make them feel bet­ter.”

The son of Thomas Fran­cis Comber III, an at­tor­ney, and Jane Kennedy Comber, a home­maker, James Ed­ward Comber was born in Bal­ti­more and raised on Stan­more Road in Rodgers Forge, and later on Chum­ley Road in Stoneleigh.

He was a 1972 grad­u­ate of Loy­ola High School.

He earmed a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity and a med­i­cal de­gree in 1979 from the Johns Hop­kins School of Medicine.

He com­pleted an in­tern­ship at Union Memo­rial Hos­pi­tal and a res­i­dency at Greater Bal­ti­more Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

“I first met Jim when he was a ju­nior at Loy­ola High School and vol­un­teered on Satur­days in the eye clinic at Greater Bal­ti­more Med­i­cal Cen­ter,” Dr. Sopho­cleus re­called. “I think that’s when he de­cided to be­come an oph­thal­mol­o­gist.”

Dur­ing his res­i­dency, Dr. Comber spent time at a hos­pi­tal in Pak­istan per­form­ing cataract surgery un­der Dr. Nor­val Christy, a Har­vard-trained oph­thal­mol­o­gist who dur­ing his ca­reer was cred­ited with per­form­ing more than 100,000 cataract surg­eries.

Dr. Comber be­gan prac­tic­ing oph­thal­mol­ogy in 1982 with Dr. Leonard Berger in an of­fice in the 8000 block of Har­ford Road in Parkville. He pur­chased the prac­tice in 1986 and con­tin­ued work­ing there un­til his death.

“Jim was some­body who was a dear, dear friend. I first met him when he was a res­i­dent. He was ex­tremely in­tel­li­gent and ca­pa­ble,” said Dr. John T. Thomp­son, a Tow­son oph­thal­mol­o­gist.

“He was very unas­sum­ing and didn’t draw attention to him­self,” he said. “Don’t take this the wrong way — he was an old-fash­ioned doc­tor. He lis­tened to his pa­tients, took plenty of time with them and gave them his per­sonal attention. We’re go­ing to miss him deeply.”

He said Dr. Comber’s pa­tients were “stunned” when they called about ap­point­ments and learned of his sud­den death. “It is so tragic,” Dr. Thomp­son said. In ad­di­tion to his prac­tice, Dr. Comber lent his pro­fes­sional ex­per­tise in 1982 to work with James T. Dere­meik in es­tab­lish­ing a clin­i­cal low-vi­sion eval­u­a­tion pro­gram for blind and vis­ually im­paired students at the Mary­land School for the Blind.

“The suc­cess of this pro­gram led to the ex­pan­sion of clin­i­cal low-vi­sion eval­u­a­tion to be avail­able to all students at­tend­ing pub­lic school who were blind and/or vis­ually im­paired in the state of Mary­land in 1987,” Mr. Dere­meik, ed­u­ca­tion re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram direc­tor at the Wilmer Eye In­sti­tute, wrote in an email.

Dr. Comber suc­ceeded Dr. Richard E. Hoover in con­duct­ing the an­nual fall oph­thal­mol­ogy eye screen­ing at the Mary­land School for the Blind, where he also served as a mem­ber of its board from the late 1980s un­til the mid-1990s.

“In ad­di­tion to his work with low-vi­sion chil­dren, Dr. Comber was ded­i­cated to the pro­vi­sion of low-vi­sion re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion care to adults through his work at Greater Bal­ti­more Med­i­cal Cen­ter,” said Mr. Dere­meik, a fac­ulty mem­ber of the Johns Hop­kins School of Medicine.

Dr. Comber also worked at the Hop­kins med­i­cal school one day a week to pro­vide low-vi­sion eval­u­a­tions and train oph­thal­mo­log­i­cal res­i­dents, he said.

“He was com­pas­sion­ate, com­mit­ted and had a will­ing­ness to work with chil­dren who, at times, could be dif­fi­cult when it came to putting drops in their eyes or con­duct­ing ex­am­i­na­tions,” Mr. Dere­meik said. “He was very good at jok­ing with them. He had a keen sense of hu­mor.”

Dr. Comber con­tin­ued work­ing at the School for the Blind un­til 1996.

His work helped lay the foun­da­tion for the Richard E. Hoover Ser­vices for Low Vi­sion and Blind­ness Cen­ter es­tab­lished in 1987 at GBMC.

Dr. Comber met Pa­tri­cia Jane McEl­roy, who also grew up in Stoneleigh, when both at­tended ele­men­tary school at St. Mary of the As­sump­tion Ro­man Catholic Church’s parochial school in Go­vans. The cou­ple mar­ried in 1978. “They be­gan dat­ing in high school,” Dr. Thomp­son said. “He was ex­tremely de­voted to Pat.”

An avid hiker, Dr. Comber en­joyed travers­ing trails at Moun­tain Lake, Va., with his fam­ily.

He liked to day hike along the Ap­palachian Trail, and also en­joyed ski­ing at Snow­shoe, W.Va.

Other hob­bies in­cluded pho­tog­ra­phy and mak­ing fur­ni­ture.

Dr. Comber was a rail buff and model rail fan who built and op­er­ated a large O-scale rail­road in the base­ment of his Tred Avon Road home.

He was a com­mu­ni­cant of St. Pius X Ro­man Catholic Church, York and Over­brook roads in Rodgers Forge, where a Mass of Chris­tian burial will be of­fered at 10 a.m. Satur­day.

In ad­di­tion to his wife of 38 years, Dr. Comber is sur­vived by three sons, Brian Comber of Columbia, Kevin Comber of Parkville and Sean Comber of Sta­tion North; a brother, Robert Comber of New Free­dom, Pa.; two sis­ters, Kath­leen Comber of Taney­town and Laura George of Pin­na­cle, N.C.; and a grand­son. Dr. James E. Comber was an avid hiker and en­joyed ski­ing in West Vir­ginia.

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