CureBlindness | Celebrating the life of Dr. John Warnock
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Celebrating the life of Dr. John Warnock

news | Sep 18, 2023

HCP mourns the loss of Adobe co-founder and long-time HCP supporter, Dr. John Warnock

Co-founder of Adobe (former CEO and Co-Chairman of the Board), B.S. in Mathematics & Philosophy, PhD in Electrical Engineering (Computer Science) from the University of Utah; Inventor, Visionary, Philanthropist Dr. John Edward Warnock, affectionately known to his family and closest friends as "Bill", passed away Saturday, August 19, at age 82, after a nearly two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

HCP Co-Founder, Dr. Geoff Tabin recently shared the following remarks at John Warnock's memorial to celebrate the life of his friend:

It is a joy to be with you and remember our friend John "Bill" Warnock. What an amazing man and what a fantastic life!

I first met Bill when I was working at the University of Utah. A mutual friend asked me to see him as a patient when he was struggling with his vision. He was uniquely engaging, had a great understanding of the physics of his ocular issues, and a deep curiosity about all aspects of his condition. Over the course of several office visits and two surgeries we had many conversations that extended far beyond the typical doctor patient interaction. We discovered a mutual love of skiing and Bill asked me to join his Saturday morning ski crew at Deer Valley ski resort. Bill skied fast. Really fast.

Growing up in Utah Bill was an accomplished junior ski racer who excelled through high school. One of his good friends, Jim Gaddis, is the greatest American ski racer of his generation, a multiple NCAA champion and world cup racer. Also in his crowd were the father of Olympic champion Ted Liggety and several other former world class racers. Bill was always the first down the hill. He waited for everyone at the base of the chair with his classic grin.

On the lift he teased Gaddis that he was now the faster skier. Jim parlayed back that it was only because Bill was straight lining every run as he could no longer turn properly. By the end of the chairlift ride the gauntlet was thrown. Bill challenged the crowd to see who could make the most turns from the top of Deer Valley to the base. It reminded me of a Gary Larson far side cartoon as 70-year-old men began jump turning down a black diamond run, calling out the number of their turn. All the septuagenarians, save one, were winded and stopped before 50 turns. One guy, Bill, continued until he reached the bottom and 213 turns. He had an inscrutable smile on the chairlift, didn’t say another word, and I don’t recall him making another turn that day.

Bill was amazed by how well he was able to see after his cataract surgeries and curious to hear that 16 million people in our world are blind, unable to do the basic daily tasks of living, from treatable cataracts. I told him about our program developing sustaining eye-care in Asia and Africa and how we were delivering high volume, high quality, cataract surgery at a very low cost. Rather than merely donating, he surprised me by asking to come see our work himself and bring most of his family as volunteers. A large contingent of the Warnock clan joined me in AbraMinch, an impoverished town in the neglected southern region of Ethiopia. For six days they worked fourteen-hour days with hardly a break. His big rugby-playing grandchildren Yoshi and John Alexander lifted patients on and off the operating tables. Son, Jeffrey, put in the needed eye drops. Marva held the hands of children and elderly. Her compassion eased the fear of many patients. Bill took amazing photographs. We restored sight to over 800 blind people that week and shared in the incredible celebrations and joy each morning when the patches came off and the formerly blind could see.

Bill and Marva soon endowed the John and Marva Warnock Presidential Endowed Chair for Global Ophthalmology at the University of Utah enabling us to establish the first academic division of global ophthalmology. The Warnocks continued to be generous financial supporters of our international eye-care development program and have personally funded the cataract surgeries to restore sight to over 50,000 blind people in Africa.

We shared many amazing times together, including a memorable dinner with his Holiness the Dalai Lama celebrating contributions to overcoming needless blindness in Tibet. Bill and his holiness bonded. I was struck by how similar Bill was to the Dalia Lama in that they both seem to have an internal contentment about life.

When I was recruited to Stanford in 2017 I was able to spend more time with the Warnocks. Bill provided the best martinis and served the finest whiskey I have ever tasted. He was also a fabulous chef. We began having cooking parties and tested each other’s recipes. It was Bill’s cooking and Marva’s smile that got my wife and me through covid. Throughout the Covid lockdown we had zoom dinner parties. Bill was my live television cooking show host who engaged in amazing conversations about all aspects of our world. Bill loved his culinary gadgets, be it a new knife or a way to freeze dry produce. He was a master of the Sous Vide. When it was required for his duck recipe, I found a new Sous Vide set delivered to my door. He was both a deep thinker and a master of detail.

Looking back on our wonderful times together what stands out the most is his love of family and the joy with which he savored all aspects of life. His marriage to Marva is truly wonderful, one of the greatest love stories I know. His children and grandchildren are a phenomenal legacy. His optimism was infectious. Even in the latter stages of his horrible diagnosis Bill remained excited about possible advances in targeted therapies. I last saw Bill the Thursday before he passed. His grin was still there but he was distressingly thin. We decided to have a weekly homemade ice-cream festival to start fattening him back up.

I will certainly always think of Bill when I have great ice-cream, but also so many other times when I think about what it means to live a great life filled with passion, joy contentment and love.

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