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In memorial: LeFahler joined with optometric practices to change presbyopia correction

March 7, 2012

Influential optical industry executive Pierre LeFahler is being remembered for helping to shape vision care around the globe through the introduction of unique lens products – notably Varilux, the first modern design progressive addition lens (PAL).

However, nowhere is LeFahler being more fondly remembered than in the United States, where he not only helped revolutionize presbyopia correction through the distribution of progressive lens, but markedly advanced the private practice of optometry in the process.

LeFahler died Jan. 21 of pneumonia and septicemia in France following a half-century career as import-export director for optical giant Essilor. He was 84.

As a teenager, LeFahler was a Freedom Fighter who narrowly escaped a firing squad after being captured by the Germans during World War II.

In 1951, he joined the French optical manufacturer, Essel, that would later become Essilor; he was named its export director. He played a key role in making Essilor one of the largest ophthalmic lens manufacturers in the world and successfully introduced the company’s products in many of the more than 100 nations where the firm today does business.

American-style optometrists were largely unknown in France when Essilor began laying plans to introduce PALs to North America in the early 1970s. LeFahler was one of the first to recognize the importance of optometry, particularly private- practice optometry, in American vision care.

Staunchly maintaining the then-radical concept that optical lenses should be treated as health care products – not commodities, LeFahler centered the U.S. introduction of Varilux around the concept of making the lenses available exclusively in optometric practices.

He hired the first optometric professional relations director ever retained by an optical manufacturer (Rod Tahran, O.D., then a recent graduate from the Southern California College of Optometry).

He began conducting seminars on the innovative new lens at major optometric meetings around the county and working with schools and colleges of optometry to educate students on the lenses.

Middle-age Americans eventually welcomed an alternative to traditional bifocals, although it took years and a strong commitment on LeFalher’s part to get the job done.

The use of progressive lenses as a correction for presbyopia soon became the fastest growing segment of the vision care market – with optometrists the acknowledged leaders in the field.

The strategy proved so highly successful that Essilor launched a number of additional, innovative optical products for distribution through private optometry practices.

In 2007, the AOA honored LeFahler with its Apollo Award—the highest award presented by the association to persons (with or without optometry degrees) or organizations for distinguished service to the visual welfare of the public. He was only the third non-American to be so honored by the AOA.

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