Lionel Freedman Rubin, 84, a former professor at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine who was a pioneer in the field of veterinary ophthalmology, died Sunday, Feb. 11, at Lankenau Medical Center after a brief illness.

Lionel Freedman Rubin
Courtesy of the family
Lionel Freedman Rubin

Dr. Rubin, who went by "Lon," was born in Philadelphia and recently had lived in Gladwyne. He taught veterinary ophthalmology for 31 years, retiring from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine in 1992 as an emeritus professor, according to his family. He served as president of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists from 1976 to 1977, wrote four books and more than 100 scientific papers and abstracts, and was a consultant to pharmaceutical companies, as well as for the American Kennel Club.

He also was committed to his family, said his son David Rubin of Philadelphia. As a student at Overbrook High School, Dr. Rubin met his future wife of 62 years, Barbara Perna Rubin, who survives. Dr. Rubin graduated from Central High School, then attended the University of Pennsylvania with Barbara, graduating in 1954. He received his veterinary medical doctor degree from Penn's School of Medicine in 1958.

"He was this incredibly accomplished man, incredibly driven," but also "humorous — joyful in his approach to life," David Rubin said. Growing up in Merion Station, "every other neighborhood father would come home and that would be the end of your day. For my father, he would come home from his work at the university and play with us. Every other neighbor's kid came to our house, because our father was instigating a baseball game."

During the day, Dr. Rubin taught classes at the school of veterinary medicine, with titles including "Surgery: Lectures on Ocular Disease of Animals" and "Advanced Surgical Exercises — Small Animals." He had developed an interest in ophthalmology during a stint as an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service while stationed at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., after his graduation from veterinary school, his son said.

At the time, veterinary ophthalmology was a relatively new field. "His first instructors at the veterinary school were human eye doctors," David Rubin said. His father gathered information from the ground level: "He would go into pharmaceutical companies who had lots of rats, lots of rabbits. He would just look at animal eye after animal eye after animal eye, so he could see what was different."

He became a leader in the field, discovering a number of eye diseases, his family said. At one point, he operated on Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.

Dr. Rubin was motivated by his discoveries and that the research "offered so many benefits beyond animal service," his son said.

A 1977 article in the New York Times on a speech by Dr. Rubin about inherited eye disease in dogs described him as saying that "human beings as well as animals stand to gain from the significant strides made over the last decade" by the veterinary medicine school's research.

His children, meanwhile, gained respect for animals, as well as a host of pets.

"Our dogs were rejects, but they were great rejects," David Rubin said, recalling their first dog, a golden retriever that hadn't passed muster as a guide  dog.

"The periphery" of their father's work, he said, "would come to us as children in the form of one-eyed cats. … The house was always filled with animals."

Beyond his work, Dr. Rubin loved to travel, visiting multiple continents with his wife. He was an avid bridge player, reaching the rank of Life Master in the American Contract Bridge League; a fisherman who enjoyed sharing the activity with his grandchildren; and a competitive tennis player, who continued to play into his 80s.

"My dad never declined a tennis game," David Rubin said. "Everything he did, he did to a significant level."

In addition to his wife and son David, Dr. Rubin is survived by two other children, Carol Rubin Fishman and Jonathan Samuel Rubin; five grandchildren; and a brother, Dr. Ellis Rubin.

Services are private.