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Dr. James E. Comber, ophthalmologist, dies

Dr. James E. Comber was a Baltimore ophthalmologist who helped establish a program at the Maryland School for the Blind for children.
Dr. James E. Comber was a Baltimore ophthalmologist who helped establish a program at the Maryland School for the Blind for children.

Dr. James E. Comber, a Baltimore ophthalmologist who helped establish a program at the Maryland School for the Blind for children, died Saturday of cardiovascular disease at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center.

The Stoneleigh resident was 62.

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"You couldn't find a nicer person. Jim was both pleasant and kind and the consummate surgeon," said Dr. Gregory J. Sophocleus, a semiretired Towson ophthalmologist. "His patients loved him, and he joked with them to make them feel better."

The son of Thomas Francis Comber III, an attorney, and Jane Kennedy Comber, a homemaker, James Edward Comber was born in Baltimore and raised on Stanmore Road in Rodgers Forge, and later on Chumley Road in Stoneleigh.

He was a 1972 graduate of Loyola High School.

He earmed a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University and a medical degree in 1979 from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

He completed an internship at Union Memorial Hospital and a residency at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

"I first met Jim when he was a junior at Loyola High School and volunteered on Saturdays in the eye clinic at Greater Baltimore Medical Center," Dr. Sophocleus recalled. "I think that's when he decided to become an ophthalmologist."

During his residency, Dr. Comber spent time at a hospital in Pakistan performing cataract surgery under Dr. Norval Christy, a Harvard-trained ophthalmologist who during his career was credited with performing more than 100,000 cataract surgeries.

Dr. Comber began practicing ophthalmology in 1982 with Dr. Leonard Berger in an office in the 8000 block of Harford Road in Parkville. He purchased the practice in 1986 and continued working there until his death.

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"Jim was somebody who was a dear, dear friend. I first met him when he was a resident. He was extremely intelligent and capable," said Dr. John T. Thompson, a Towson ophthalmologist.

"He was very unassuming and didn't draw attention to himself," he said. "Don't take this the wrong way — he was an old-fashioned doctor. He listened to his patients, took plenty of time with them and gave them his personal attention. We're going to miss him deeply."

He said Dr. Comber's patients were "stunned" when they called about appointments and learned of his sudden death.

"It is so tragic," Dr. Thompson said.

In addition to his practice, Dr. Comber lent his professional expertise in 1982 to work with James T. Deremeik in establishing a clinical low-vision evaluation program for blind and visually impaired students at the Maryland School for the Blind.

"The success of this program led to the expansion of clinical low-vision evaluation to be available to all students attending public school who were blind and/or visually impaired in the state of Maryland in 1987," Mr. Deremeik, education rehabilitation program director at the Wilmer Eye Institute, wrote in an email.

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Dr. Comber succeeded Dr. Richard E. Hoover in conducting the annual fall ophthalmology eye screening at the Maryland School for the Blind, where he also served as a member of its board from the late 1980s until the mid-1990s.

"In addition to his work with low-vision children, Dr. Comber was dedicated to the provision of low-vision rehabilitation care to adults through his work at Greater Baltimore Medical Center," said Mr. Deremeik, a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Dr. Comber also worked at the Hopkins medical school one day a week to provide low-vision evaluations and train ophthalmological residents, he said.

"He was compassionate, committed and had a willingness to work with children who, at times, could be difficult when it came to putting drops in their eyes or conducting examinations," Mr. Deremeik said. "He was very good at joking with them. He had a keen sense of humor."

Dr. Comber continued working at the School for the Blind until 1996.

His work helped lay the foundation for the Richard E. Hoover Services for Low Vision and Blindness Center established in 1987 at GBMC.

Dr. Comber met Patricia Jane McElroy, who also grew up in Stoneleigh, when both attended elementary school at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church's parochial school in Govans.

The couple married in 1978.

"They began dating in high school," Dr. Thompson said. "He was extremely devoted to Pat."

An avid hiker, Dr. Comber enjoyed traversing trails at Mountain Lake, Va., with his family. He liked to day hike along the Appalachian Trail, and also enjoyed skiing at Snowshoe, W.Va.

Other hobbies included photography and making furniture.

Dr. Comber was a rail buff and model rail fan who built and operated a large O-scale railroad in the basement of his Tred Avon Road home.

He was a communicant of St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church, York and Overbrook roads in Rodgers Forge, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his wife of 38 years, Dr. Comber is survived by three sons, Brian Comber of Columbia, Kevin Comber of Parkville and Sean Comber of Station North; a brother, Robert Comber of New Freedom, Pa.; two sisters, Kathleen Comber of Taneytown and Laura George of Pinnacle, N.C.; and a grandson.

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