Common Sense and Uncommon Generosity

Published in Wilmer - Fall 2021

Marjorie Wells Gerdine was a clinical psychologist known for her common sense, says her husband Philip Van Horn Gerdine. “She was not to be trivialized.”

While Marjorie passed away in 2019, her influence remains large in his life and his legacy, which includes two professorships at the Wilmer Eye Institute made available as part of his estate plan. Both are named the Philip and Marjorie Gerdine Professorship of Ophthalmology. One is for the Cornea Division and one is for age-related macular degeneration research. Also part of his estate plan will be the Philip and Marjorie Gerdine Precision Medicine Scholars Fund at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Philip has a connection to Johns Hopkins through his grandfather, Lynn Van Horn Gerdine, who was class of 1895 at Johns Hopkins University, and eventually became a psychiatrist. His grandfather’s career inspired Philip to study clinical psychology. Both he and Marjorie studied clinical psychology in Boston. In the 1980s, he and Marjorie were living in Boston where Philip sought treatment for his eye condition and encountered Oliver Schein for the first time. Schein treated Philip for about half a year but then left to join the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.

Because of Philip’s respect for Johns Hopkins thanks to his grandfather’s educational experience as well as the progress he had made under Schein’s care, Philip chose to continue his treatment at the Wilmer Eye Institute.

“I followed Oliver Schein down there because I knew he was an expert in corneal disease and this particular one.”

The disease in question, Fuchs’ dystrophy, affects the cornea — the clear front part of the eye — by causing the layer of cells responsible for maintaining proper fluid levels in the cornea to deteriorate and tiny bumps to form on the back of the cornea. When enough of these cells die, fluid builds up in the cornea, resulting in swelling and blurred vision.

Schein, now Wilmer’s Burton E. Grossman Professor of Ophthalmology, eventually performed corneal transplants on Philip to treat his Fuchs’ dystrophy, which were a success. Philip recalls regaining clear vision again. “You discover the world really does exist and it’s not a big blur. And as you improve, you’re able to do things and deliver services and all the rest again.”

These services, in his case, included traveling the world — to every continent except Antarctica — to fix companies. Both Philip and Marjorie began their careers as clinical psychologists. Marjorie remained one throughout her professional career, maintaining a large private practice in Massachusetts working with children and adolescents. On the advice of Marjorie, however, Philip transitioned into business. As evidence for her point, she reminded him that he had built radio station WDHA-FM in New Jersey just before going to study psychology in Boston.

“The famous statement from my wife was, ‘You don’t belong in psychology. You belong in business.’ I got quite angry and then thought that over. She then said, ‘Here’s a Harvard Business application filled out.’ And she was right.”

After business school, Philip worked as a business consultant in mergers and acquisitions. “My whole life, I’ve been fixing things. Which is part of psychiatry and psychology but now it’s fixing businesses.”

Decades after Philip’s corneal transplants, Marjorie was treated for age-related macular degeneration at Wilmer. Both underwent treatment in other departments of Johns Hopkins Medicine, as well.

“When my wife and I worked on our wills, we knew that Johns Hopkins Medicine would be at the top for gift giving,” says Gerdine. “It’s a thank-you for what [Hopkins] did for Marjorie and me. We have gotten to know the doctors there well. And it’s a thank-you for Baltimore being what it is — a semi-Southern town with kind people,” says Philip.

“We are grateful that Dr. Gerdine has chosen to invest in innovation within the field of ophthalmology and research into eye disease,” says Wilmer Director Peter J. McDonnell, M.D. “The professorships he is establishing will accelerate the work of the next generation of Wilmer faculty, leading the way to better understanding and treatment of the major retinal and corneal diseases.”