By By Frederick N. Rasmussen and The Baltimore Sun
Mar 30, 2013 at 2:38 PM
Dr. Lorenz E. Zimmerman, the founder of modern ophthalmic pathology, who spent his nearly 60-year career studying diseases of the eye, died March 16 of complications from an infection at the Blakehurst retirement community in Towson. He was 92.
His wife of 53 years, Anastasia U. Zimmerman, a registered nurse who had served as a major with the Army Nurse Corps, died Tuesday of congestive heart failure, also at Blakehurst. She was 89.
"Without a doubt, Dr. Zimmerman was the most influential eye pathologist in the last 150 years. He was known worldwide and he trained all of the world's leading eye pathologists of the 20th century," said Dr. Morton F. Goldberg, who was director of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1989 until 2003.
"He was a charismatic and brilliant lecturer, which is a mark of erudition and real brilliance," said Dr. Goldberg. "He was a fine person with impeccable ethics, and he also had inherent leadership traits. He had been a leader in our field for more than 50 years."
Lorenz Eugene Zimmerman, the son of a German immigrant father and an immigrant mother from Switzerland, was born and raised in Washington, graduating in 1938 from Central High School.
"They owned the Regent Pastry Shop in Washington, and he said he went into medicine because he didn't want to have to work as hard as his parents," said a daughter, Dr. Mary Louise "Lou" Collins, a Homeland resident, who is director of pediatric ophthalmology and resident education at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
Dr. Zimmerman earned his bachelor's degree in 1943 and his medical degree in 1945, both from George Washington University.
He served in the Army from 1944 to 1954, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He served an internship at the old Gallinger Municipal Hospital in Washington from 1945 to 1946 and completed a general pathology residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 1947 to 1950.
"The start of the Korean War coincided with the end of his residency, and he became the pathologist in charge of a field hospital pathology laboratory where he served in Korea until 1952," said Dr. Collins.
While in Korea, Dr. Zimmerman was commanding officer of the 8217th Mobile Medical Laboratory. His decorations included the Bronze Star and Legion of Merit.
The Korean War was the backdrop for the beginning of a friendship that later blossomed into a marriage. The future Mrs. Zimmerman had enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in 1945 and served in Japan during the occupation after the end of World War II.
"My parents first met in a mobile Army hospital in Korea," said Dr. Collins. "They did not see each other again for seven or eight years until they were both stationed at Walter Reed. They married in 1959."
In 1952, Dr. Zimmerman began his career at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He remained there for the next 52 years, and chaired the department of ophthalmic pathology from 1954 to 1983. He was chairman emeritus at his death.
"This was the turning point in his career, although he had not had specific training in pathology of the eye and ocular adnexa," said Dr. Collins.
Dr. Zimmerman's role was not treating patients but rather studying eye tissue and cells that may lead to eye disease. He made important contributions to the understanding of the causes of leukocoria, or white pupil, and ocular melanoma.
"He studied a huge volume of tissue samples that came from eye surgeons all over the world. He brought exceptional order out of chaos," said Dr. Goldberg.
Dr. Zimmerman was not only a prolific researcher but also an indefatigable writer of scientific articles. During his career, he wrote more than 370 articles in peer-reviewed journals, "many of which are landmark contributions," said Dr. Collins.
He also lectured widely. "Every talk he gave he was just spectacular," said Dr. C. Pat Wilkinson, chairman of the department of ophthalmology at GBMC. "I knew him from my residency days and he was one of those figures you rarely come across in life."
He was a professor of pathology and ophthalmology at Georgetown University from 1983 to 1986 and was a consultant in pathology from 1976 to 1999 at Washington Hospital Center.
"Work was his real passion," said Dr. Collins, who said her father liked to jog and play tennis. He enjoyed working in his flower and vegetable garden at Sherwood Forest, where he also had hand-dug and maintained a fish pond.
He was a member of the Cosmos Club in Washington.
His wife, the former Anastasia Urbaniak, was the daughter of Polish immigrant parents — her father was a steelworker and her mother was a homemaker. She was born in Everson, Pa., and raised in Scottdale, Pa., near Pittsburgh, where she graduated in 1941 from Scottdale High School.
"She earned her registered nursing degree at a two-year college near Cleveland," said Dr. Collins.
Mrs. Zimmerman was discharged in 1959 from the Army Nurse Corps with the rank of major. Her decorations included the World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Japan, Korean Service Medal and the National Defense Medal.
"When she became pregnant with me, she was forced into an honorable discharge, as women with dependent children under 16 were not allowed to be in the Army, even as a nurse," said Dr. Collins.
Mrs. Zimmerman, who was a gourmet cook, enjoyed entertaining in her home at fashionable dinners for the fellows in ophthalmology who were training with Dr. Zimmerman at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
"She loved cooking Polish and German food," her daughter said.
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Mrs. Zimmerman volunteered with the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington and served on its board. She also volunteered at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School and St. Albans School.
Like her husband, she shared a passion for gardening and was a member of the Kensington Garden Club. She was also a member of the Sherwood Forest Club.
Mrs. Zimmerman was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson, and earlier had been a member of Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Kensington.
The couple were also members of St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church, 620 Bestgate Road, Annapolis, where a joint Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. April 6. They will be interred together at a later date at Arlington National Cemetery.
In addition to Dr. Collins, the couple is survived by three sons, Lorenz E. Zimmerman of New York City, Spencer E. Zimmerman of New Bern, N.C., and Brian L. Zimmerman of Chester, Va.; two other daughters, Barbara A. Reese of Sherwood Forest and Patricia A. Kloke of Richmond, Va.; 14 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.