Val White will retire at the end of June 2017 after being in the Vancouver General Hospital system since 1980. Her career established the University of British Columbia and Vancouver General Hospital as a world renowned center for ophthalmic pathology. She leaves her service, research and teaching achievements at VGH to assume the new duties in her life which include (but are not limited to) boating, bicycling, creative writing, and the attentive care of her nine year old schipperke, Genesee. She recently finished the prestigious Writers’ Studio Program at Simon Fraser University and is about two thirds of the way through her first novel.
Valerie was born in Ottawa, but raised in St John’s, Newfoundland, the eldest child of four. She was a gifted student and her scholastic success led naturally to ambitions of medical school. In Newfoundland, one could enter medical school after two years of post-secondary education, and so Val graduated from Memorial University at a young age and then finished her rotating internship at the University of Toronto. She subsequently entered the internal medicine program at UBC but began to doubt that internal medicine was right for her. One summer day, after a particularly weak moment following a full weekend on call for medicine, she followed a specimen down to the pathology department and met Bill Chase, the acting head of pathology at the time. After a brief discussion, he gave Val an application and launched her pathology trajectory. After completing her pathology fellowship training at UBC, Val did a year of ophthalmic pathology at the Institute of Ophthalmology at the University of London and a year of ophthalmic pathology at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary at Harvard University.
In 1982, Val met Alex Whitfield, and together they began an avid pursuit of an extracurricular life of sailing and bicycling and traveling. They have been to all the continents except Antarctica numerous times. They sailed a 30 foot boat from Vancouver to Glacier Bay, Alaska in 2000, the millennial year. They are long term members of BC Randonneurs Cycling Club, an organization dedicated to “marathon” cycling. They’ve cycled extensively in Asia, South America, and Europe. They were one of the first home owners in Canoe Pass Village, a newly created float home village in Ladner where they have lived since 1989. Val is a very accomplished knitter, being an early and habitual attendee at a local knitting club, and having attended numerous knitting courses.
The highlight of Dr. White’s academic career is her establishment (with Doug Horsman) of monosomy 3 as the genetic mutation associated with aggressive uveal melanomas.
The highlight of Dr. White’s academic career is her establishment (with Doug Horsman) of monosomy 3 as the genetic mutation associated with aggressive uveal melanomas. She and her collaborators went on to articulate additional mutations associated with lethal uveal melanoma, and this research represents an early and seminal investigation in the realm of “molecular” pathology. This writer was at a major international pathology conference on ocular oncology when speaker after speaker acknowledged Dr. White as the one who finally discovered the important difference between the “good” and the “bad” melanomas of the eye.
Much of her career overlapped with that of Jack Rootman, then the head of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at UBC. Jack was a trained ophthalmic pathologist and so he was the natural professional associate to help Val establish UBC as a center for ophthalmic pathology. Together or individually, Jack Rootman and Valerie White wrote numerous articles, books, and book chapters. Her most recent work includes updating the 8th Edition AJCC Cancer Staging Manual for lacrimal gland tumors.
In 1997, Dr. White began a series of trips to Malawi to investigate the cerebral and ocular effects of malaria. This collaboration, largely with Susan Lewallen, was both professionally and personally rewarding. While Val did research and service work, Alex (a construction general contractor) helped with building projects in Malawi. Subsequently, Val became active in other international outreach programs in ophthalmic pathology and has offered extended workshops in India and the Middle East.
Val has done as much as anyone in Canada to promote the discipline of ophthalmic pathology at the national level. A seminal and dedicated member of the Canadian Ophthalmic Pathology Society, Val is currently the Chair of that professional society. She has avidly participated in international ophthalmic pathology societies including the Eastern Ophthalmic Pathology Society, the British Association for Ocular Pathology, The Michael Hogan Society, the Verhoeff/Zimmerman Society, and the USCAP Companion Meeting for Ophthalmic Pathology.
Whether in the hospital or out, Dr. White has always been busy, and I suspect she has accomplished more in her “spare” time than many have accomplished in their professional life. None of that will change for Val, and I know that her coming years will see a flurry of activity and accomplishment. As Wayne Johnston once remarked, Newfoundlanders are “always searching for something commensurate with the greatness of the land itself, but [they] can't find it ...Newfoundland is that kind of place. It makes you want to live up to the landscape, but on the other hand it offers you no resources to do so.” In Canoe Pass Village, Val is perched on the very edge of the Pacific, as far from her origins as she could obtain in a lifetime and as close to the strivings of that first place as she could dare.