Article Date: 4/1/2012

A Genius With a Sense of Humor
lessons learned

A Genius With a Sense of Humor

Remembering Irv Borish, who was “the rarest of the rare.”

Jack Runninger, O.D.

The better I got to know Irv Borish, via spending a great deal of time with him and his wife on various trips, the more I discovered him to be the most brilliant and amazing person I've ever known. His genius was in many fields, not just optometry.

I shuddered when I discovered how close he came to not pursuing an optometric career. When he graduated from high school, he entered Temple University to pursue a literary career. A year-and-a-half later, fortunately(!) his uncle talked him into going to optometric school at Northern Illinois College of Optometry instead.

I once described him in this way: “To be a genius is rare. To be a genius with common sense is even more rare. And to be a genius with common sense who is a really nice guy, is even more rare. That describes my friend Irv Borish, the rarest of the rare!”

In addition

Now as I contemplate his demise, I realize that there was another trait that set him apart. We usually picture a scientist of Borish's brilliance as always being frowning and very serious. But he had a marvelous sense of humor despite a disadvantaged childhood. His parents were poor immigrants from Lithuania. Stricken with tuberculosis, his father stayed at a sanitarium in the Catskills, a region that was the spawning ground of many marvelous Jewish comedians. A sample from Rodney Dangerfield:

Celebrating Dr. Borish's 89th birthday (left to right): Dr. Runninger; Dr. Borish, author of Clinical Refraction, the definitive work on refraction for optometry; and Dr. Ben Milder, author of the award winning The Fine Art Of Prescribing Glasses Without Making A Spectacle of Yourself, the definitive text on refraction for ophthalmology.

Not Doris

“I had a hard time getting a date. So a friend set me up on a blind date with a girl named Doris. I was supposed to meet her on a street corner. When a girl approached, I asked, ‘Are you Doris?’

“‘Are you Rodney?’ she asked. When I said yes, she said, ‘Then I’m not Doris.'“

Anyway, I always wondered if being raised in the Catskills wasn't one source of Borish's great sense of humor.

“The daughter of a Jewish merchant became engaged to a jobless Talmudic scholar,” began perhaps his favorite story. “‘How do you expect to support my daughter without a job?’ the merchant asked the suitor-scholar. ‘God will provide,’ he said.

“Later someone asked the merchant how he got along with his up-coming son-in-law. ‘Fine,’ he replied. ‘He thinks I’m God.‘

A fascinating life

His fascinating life is described in the wonderful biography written by his close friend, Dr. Bill Baldwin. [Phone Dr. Baldwin at (812) 333-2013, and he can tell you how to order a copy through one of the schools of optometry.]

My favorite story in his repertoire was about the little old man dining in a restaurant. He hailed his waiter and said, “Taste the soup.”

“Is it too hot?” asked the waiter. “Taste the soup,” the gentleman repeated. “Is something wrong with it?” the waiter persisted. “Taste the soup,” the diner insisted.

“Okay, okay,” said the waiter. “Where's the spoon?”

“Ah HAH!” said the diner triumphantly. OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: April 2012, page(s): 22