Berkeley Eye Center founder Dr. Ralph Berkeley, born on May 22, 1928 in El Paso, Texas, passed away at the age of 92 on April 7, 2021 in his home in Houston.
Ralph was predeceased by his parents, Ralph Gordon Berkeley, Sr. and Gladys Berkeley King, his wife, Virginia Ann Fitch Berkeley and his son, Kent Van Zandt Berkeley. He is survived by his children, Dr. Michael Berkeley and wife Maci, Mimi Sadler and husband Alan, and Tony Berkeley and wife, Katherine. He also leaves behind seven grandchildren: Annie Sadler Bradbury and husband Mike, Robert Berkeley, Ginna Koury and husband Kevin, Matthew Berkeley and wife Fei, John Sadler and wife Lindsay, Will Sadler and wife Rylea, and Olivia Berkeley. He will also be missed by his ten great grandchildren.
During the Depression, Ralph’s parents moved to Chihuahua, Mexico to start a ranch to support the family. Ralph divided his time between summers at the family ranch and school years in Alpine, TX with his grandparents, Dr. Benjamin and Clara Berkeley. During his summers in Mexico, he worked daily with the ranch hands, and thus became fluent in both English and Spanish at a young age. At the age of 16, after an unexpected freeze killed nearly 3,000 freshly sheared sheep on the ranch, Ralph decided that he would leave Mexico and pursue medicine in the States.
Ralph graduated high school from Allen Academy in Bryan, TX and attended college at the University of Texas at El Paso, receiving a degree in biology. Traveling to Houston to attend graduate school, he stopped in Austin to visit a friend who invited him on a double date with Virginia Fitch. Ralph was smitten and immediately applied to The University of Texas in Austin, where he received a master’s degree in genetics. Ralph and Virginia married while he attended Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. After completing an internship at Hermann Hospital in general medicine, he served as a Captain in the Air Force during the Korean War where he was a flight surgeon. Upon an honorable discharge, he finished his medical training with a residency in ophthalmology at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York.
Dr. Berkeley returned to Houston in 1960 to begin his medical practice. A surgical pioneer, he traveled throughout the world to study and learn new ophthalmic procedures in anticipation of introducing them in the United States. Dr. Berkeley established a reputation for advancing the art of cataract and refractive care, and he was involved in numerous FDA studies for both mechanical devices and pharmaceutical products. His legacy lives on in Berkeley Eye Center, whose compassionate and patient-focused care, mirrored with advanced technology and research, has enabled expansion into 23 clinics in the greater Houston area. Dr. Berkeley found great delight in creating an exciting and challenging workplace culture at Berkeley Eye Center to ensure employee fulfillment and to attract the top medical talent in ophthalmology. Dr. Berkeley’s contribution to the field of Ophthalmology has been recognized by many organizations, including the Society for Excellence in Eyecare, who presented Dr. Berkeley with their “Outstanding Leadership Award” in 2016 for his dedication and service.
Dr. Berkeley has been involved in numerous charities and missionary work throughout his life. Working alongside his son, Michael, founder of Mexico Medical Missions, Dr. Berkeley and his associates at Berkeley Eye Center made multiple trips to a remote region of Mexico to perform cataract surgery on the Tarahumara Indians.
Dr. Berkeley was passionate about helping others realize their potential. In one example, after an encounter with a stranger on an airplane who shared his dream of improving the vision of schoolchildren without access to eye care, Dr. Berkeley was instrumental in working with his new acquaintance to pull resources together to build the infrastructure that would pilot the “See to Succeed” program, which aims to improve vision for Houston ISD children. Since 2011, vision clinics, including Berkeley Eye Center, have seen 47,000 Houston area students and have given out over 43,000 pairs of glasses.
In the 1980’s, Ralph cofounded the Center for Recovering Families which provided treatment, counseling, and recovery services for individuals and families whose lives had been impacted by alcoholism and drug addiction. In 2002, the Center was acquired by the Council on Recovery which continues the same mission- a mission passionate to Ralph throughout his life.
Never one to be idle, upon retirement from medicine, Ralph began art lessons at 87 years old. He drew stunning portraits of his family, pets, and scenes from his boyhood home in Mexico. Ralph’s family and friends will remember fondly his captivating storytelling ability, witty sense of humor, and charming personality.