Dr. James O'Rourke, an ophthalmologist and researcher who helped found the vision research program at the University of Connecticut Health Center, died on October 29, 2011 in Farmington. He retired in May 2011 from the UCONN Health Center where he was an emeritus professor of immunology. The author of more than 100 research articles on a wide array of topics, O'Rourke also established a close relationship with the Connecticut Lions Eye Research Foundation and served as director of the Connecticut Lions Vision Center for nearly 40 years. James Francis O'Rourke was born March 2, 1925 in Trenton, NJ. He attended the accelerated premedical program at Georgetown College and US Naval Unit during World War II and earned his medical degree from the Georgetown University School of Medicine in 1949. He received a M.Sc. as a postdoctoral fellow from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Medicine in 1952. From 1952-54 he was a resident surgeon at Wills Eye Hospital, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness from 1954-57 and a trainee at Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Science from 1955-56. At Georgetown, with the help of a National Institutes of Health grant, he established the first ophthalmology residency program. From 1955-57 he was Chief of Clinical Research at NIH - Ophthalmology Branch and served as professor of Surgery in Ophthalmology at Georgetown Medical School from 1958-69. In 1969, UConn recruited O'Rourke for the nascent health center in Farmington. He became the first director of the health center's ophthalmology division a position he held until 1988. Subsequent positions included professor of pathology, adjunct professor of surgery, and adjunct professor of engineering at Trinity College in Hartford. O'Rourke's focus was on the tiny capillaries of the retina and how they reflect the health of the whole body. His research achievements included a "major discovery" that tissue plasminogen activator, the clot-busting protein given to stroke victims and widely known as tPA, is produced naturally under conditions of stress. "He constantly reminded us that our research should be translational, having as its central purpose the goal of advancing human health." UConn Immunology Professor and Chair Leo LeFrancois Ph.D. wrote in a statement to the Health Center community on Tuesday. A passionate scientist who loved his work and mentoring new scientists, O'Rourke is a role model for students, faculty and former mentees who are researchers and physicians throughout the world. O'Rourke was a member of Sigma XI, the scientific research society and the Cosmos Club, a former Board Director of Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, a Rotarian and a Paul Harris Fellow. In 1994, he was presented the Leader of Vision Award by the Connecticut Eye Bank and Research Foundation. His portrait was hung in the Department of Ophthalmology at Georgetown University in 1992. O'Rourke married the former Marita Howard in 1954. She survives him, as do his daughters Carol Troiani of Burlington, Elizabeth Doyle of Arlington, VA and Margaret Nowak of Spring, TX and eight grandchildren and a brother, Dr. William O'Rourke of E. Greenwich, Rhode Island. He was predeceased by a son, James Howard O'Rourke.

A memorial service will be held at 11 am, Saturday, November 12, 2011 at St. James Church, Mountain Road, Farmington. Friends may visit with the family on Friday, November 11, 2011 from 4pm - 6pm at The Ahern Funeral Home, 111 Main St., Unionville. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Catherine Pope Vision Fund. Checks, payable to the University of Connecticut Foundation and marked for the Catherine Pope Vision Fund, may be sent to Mail Stop 3710, Department of Immunology, University of Connecticut Health Center, 263 Farmington Ave., Farmington, CT. 06030. Memorial donations may also be made to the Connecticut Lions Eye Research Foundation (CLERF), Inc., PO. Box 9268, New Haven, CT. 06533.

*Published in The Hartford Courant on 11/6/11*