William Robrock Brinker was born to Ruth and William on March 4th, 1929, in Cleveland, Ohio. He passed away peacefully on April 19th of this year, surrounded by family. He is survived by his wife Grace; brother David; children Will, Nan, and Hans; as well as his grandchildren Sophie, Zoe, Noah, and Augie. His older sister, Barb, predeceased him.
Bill Brinker was an Eagle Scout. He graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 1946 and from Heidelberg College in 1950. It was at Heidelberg that he met his wife Grace Elaine Stuckey. The two were married in 1951 and had their first child, Will, in 1952.
Bill enlisted in the army and served in a MASH medical unit in Korea. He sometimes reflected on this time by saying, “I was cold for two years and the only thing that got me through was when I decided not kill anyone.” Upon returning home, he attended Case Western Medical School. A part of his training was at Harvard Medical School in Ophthalmology where he did original research and published a paper which led to job offers in academia. At that time he decided he would prefer working with patients and started a medical practice in Kent, Ohio in 1963. During the years in school, Bill and Grace welcomed two more children: Nan in 1956 and Hans in 1960. Bill and Grace made Kent their home for the next 50 plus years.
Bill’s passion for medicine was paramount in his life and he viewed it as a calling. He loved being a doctor. He treated one and all with skill, respect, dignity, and most of all, kindness. He treated everyone who came through the doors of his practice, even if they were unable to pay for his services. Sometimes people who could not pay in cash brought gifts from their workshops and gardens to the house.
This calling was expressed outside of the office as well. In the late 60s, Bill joined his son Will on a trip with Amigos de las Americas, an organization that sends high school and college students to remote villages in Latin America to do basic health care and vaccinations. This began Bill’s life-long interest in providing health care to the underserved parts of the world. During that time, Bill and Grace worked with others to start a branch of Amigos de las Americas in Kent.
In 1969, Bill and his brother Dave, also an ophthalmologist, went to Vietnam to treat the civilian population there, as many of the doctors there had fled that conflict. In the fall of 1972, Bill took his family to India to do surgery with his longtime medical colleague, Dr. Don Van Dyke. In 1975, Bill went with his son Hans to the Dominican Republic for an eye project. This was the beginning of a number of projects in the Dominican Republic, Central America, and South America that would include his family along with many friends and colleagues as volunteers. There was never a running count of surgeries performed on these projects, but the number is likely to be in the tens of thousands. Bill also participated in medical projects and performed surgery in Southeast Asia and Africa. In 1991 he went to Palestine during the first Intifadas as part of a small human rights/medical delegation which included his wife Grace, son Will and daughter-in-law Beth, an ophthalmologist and plastic surgeon.
By the mid 90s, Bill had started his own ophthalmic project based in El Salvador. Numerous family, friends, and community members took trips to El Salvador to work in two-week vision clinics bringing care to some of the most remote, impoverished, and often war torn villages in the region. Brother Dave and brother-in-law Al were key to the success of these projects. Grace was a regular on these trips, serving as a highly skilled ocularist, providing prosthetic eyes to those in need. Upon his retirement from this project, several Catholic Sisters based in El Salvador sent a letter to be shared at a Rotary dinner. It read, “Dr. Brinker is considered in El Salvador as is Mother Teresa in India.”
Bill had many other interests in his life. He loved hiking, gardening, photography, traveling to far-flung places, and vacationing with family in Canada, the Colorado Rockies, and California.
During the last few years, Bill lived on the Alzheimer’s unit of Bethany Lutheran Riverside in La Crosse, Wisconsin where he received extraordinary care. During moments of lucidity he would sometimes say, “I think the people who are caring for me here are working too hard and not being paid enough.” Bill touched many lives over the course of his 88 years on the planet. He strove to live by a personal code of ‘always be kinder than one needs to be.’
A memorial service will be held in Kent, Ohio at 11 am on Saturday, September 2, 2017 at the Kent United Church of Christ.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests Eye Care International for memorial contributions. Memorials may be sent directly to this 501(c)(3) organization at 9824 Squaw Valley Drive Vienna, Virginia 22182-1959. This organization was created by William and he devoted much his time and talent to projects supported by Eye Care International.