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Biography of

Ferdinand Phinizy Calhoun, Jr.

Ferdinand Phinizy Calhoun, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on November 29, 1910. He was the first child of Dr. Ferdinand Phinizy Calhoun and Marion Crompton Peel.  He was the grandson of Colonel William Lawson Peel and Lucy Marion Cook Peel and Dr. Abner Welborn Calhoun and Mary Louise Phinizy Calhoun. His father, Ferdinand Phinizy Calhoun, Sr., served for 20 years on the medical faculty at Emory, where an endowed chair in ophthalmology was established in his honor. His grandfather, A.W. Calhoun, was the South's first specialist in diseases of the eye and ear and was also president of the Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons, one of the antecedent institutions that later combined to form the Emory University School of Medicine.  His great-grandfather, A.B. Calhoun helped found another Emory medical school forerunner, the Atlanta Medical College, in 1854. 

Young Phinizy had a cute little brother to play with, Lawson Peel, and a beautiful little sister, Marion Peel. Phinizy first practiced surgery on Marion's discarded dolls —  the patients were quietly buried under the kitchen window. 

In 1917 the family moved from their small stucco cottage on the corner of Fifth and Cypress Streets out to what was then the country, to Rossdhu, on Andrews Drive.  Phinizy attended the 10th street public school until the move, and then joined classmates at the Peachtree Heights School, now known as the E. Rivers Elementary School on Peachtree Battle Avenue. 

Phinizy's childhood was filled with horse-backriding through the wilds of what is now Buckhead, romping through the woods and playing in the quarry near their home with his brother, sister and playmates. Phinizy became an enthusiastic Boy Scout in Buckhead's Troop 1 and achieved the distinguished level of Eagle Scout. He also played golf and expressed his love for music as he learned stringed instruments. 

Phinizy Calhoun, Jr. started high school at the University School for boys, attended Marist College, and went to Episcopal High School in Virginia for three years.  He played second string end on the football team. It was at Episcopal that Phinizy introduced his sister to his mathematics professor —  who later became his brother-in-law. 

Phinizy spent his summers in Linville, North Carolina where his parents had their summer home. He often attended Camp Yonanoka and won many medals for swimming and diving. 

In 1929 — the year the Great Depression began — he entered the Sophomore class of the University of Georgia in Athens and was graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1932.  Phinizy was an undistinguished scholar and largely supported himself by playing guitar and banjo in the small college orchestra.  He got his freshman numeral in track running low hurdles and was president of the Chi Phi Fraternity. After graduation, he toured the western United States as a counselor with the Georgia Caravans. 

In 1932 Phinizy Calhoun attended Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland. After receiving his M.D. degree in 1936, he toured British and Scandinavian clinics with the Southern Society of Clinical Surgeons.  He was a Fellow in the General Pathology Department of Johns Hopkins from 1936 to 1937.    For eighteen months, Phinizy held house officership at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and interned six months in neurology at the Boston City Hospital.  He wavered between Internal Medicine and Ophthalmology as a career. Once the decision was made, he  became a resident in ophthalmology at the Eye Institute of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City from 1939 to 1941. 

It was at this time that he raised a little duck in his shower-bath, and then later shipped it to Atlanta, to his five year-old godchild, Missie Cardwell.  In New York he often ice skated in the cold winter months -- little did he know that one very special nurse used to watch him skate from her windows, hearing only that he was Dr. Calhoun from Georgia.

At the end of his residency, Phinizy  returned to Atlanta to practice with his father.  He was appointed Clinical Instructor at Emory University Medical School in 1941 and has since been responsible for the training of a generation of numerous resident ophthalmologists. 

During World War II Phinizy was commissioned  First Lieutenant in the United States Army Medical Corps as ophthalmologist with the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital Military Unit, called the Second General US Army Hospital.  It was there at Ft. George G. Meade that Dr. Charlie Flood introduced Phinizy Calhoun to Mary Ellen Van Horn, a nurse from Sunbury, Pennsylvania. 

Mary Ellen and Phinizy were both to cross the ocean and serve their country at the American Hospital in Great Britain at Oxford. It was while crossing on the Duchess of Bedford Troop Ship that Phinizy asked Mary Ellen to play bridge -- their first date!  At Oxford Phinizy  continued to court Mary Ellen, and spent many afternoons and evenings attending a course in ophthalmology at Oxford University.  He became the second American to hold the Oxford Diploma in Ophthalmology. Following D-Day, their unit was moved to Normandy in July 1944 to set up in Lison, France and later at Nancy in eastern France.  At the tent hospital in Normandy Phinizy spent many hours serenading his girl under an apple tree. 

Two months after V-E Day, Major Ferdinand Phinizy Calhoun, Jr. wed Lieutenant Mary Ellen Van Horn on July 11, 1945 in Nancy, France.  The bride wore a gown hand-fashioned of French lace curtains. They were married in the hospital chapel surrounded by their friends and colleagues.  The newlyweds went to Paris and then combined their honeymoon with their duty in the British Isles. 

Phinizy and Mary Ellen's married life began in a small apartment in England where he  was chosen as an organizer of a post-hostilities training course in Glasgow, Scotland,  in preparation for the expected transfer to the Pacific Theater of the War.
But, fortunately the War ended and they both returned to the United States. 

After four years of uninterrupted military duty — the longest overseas duty of any American Ophthalmologist — Dr. Phinizy Calhoun, Jr. was discharged from the army in October 1945 and  brought his new bride home to Atlanta. Phinizy and Mary Ellen set up housekeeping at 540 Peachtree Battle Avenue and started their family.  First to arrive was son Phinizy III in June of 1946, followed by Mary Ellen in November, 1948, and Marion Peel in December, 1950 .  Home life was filled with birthday parties, puppies, bicycles, ballet lessons, kittens, and lots of silliness. 

He re-entered private practice with his father and Dr. Alton Hallum at the Doctors Building at 478 Peachtree Street.  He spent his afternoons operating at Emory Hospital or seeing patients at Grady Hospital. 

Dr. F. Phinizy Calhoun, Jr. was one of the most influential ophthalmologists in the Southeast and a fourth-generation Emory physician.  During his thirty-eight year tenure at Emory, he oversaw establishment of ophthalmology as a separate department and served as its chair for twenty-eight years. 

During this time, Dr. Calhoun is credited with bringing modern ophthalmology to both Emory and the state of Georgia.   He introduced microscopic eye surgery in the state, and he performed Georgia's first cornea transplant in  1947, leading the way for what is now the most commonly performed transplant in medicine.  He also helped develop the Georgia Lions Eye Bank, which provides ocular tissue for all transplants in Georgia.

Throughout his lifetime Phinizy has earned the respect and admiration of his friends and colleagues. 

  • He started the L.F. Montgomery Ophthalmic Pathology Laboratory in 1941 and was appointed Director in 1947 by the Emory Board of Trustees, a title he held until 1982.
  • In 1947 he was admitted to the prestigious Verhoff Society of ophthalmic pathologists.
  • In 1950 he became Professor and Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at Emory University Medical School where he served until 1978, when he became Emeritus Professor. 
  • From 1961 to 1977 he served on the 12 man American Board of Ophthalmology, and in 1978 was elected President of the American Ophthalmology Society for a one year term.
  • He founded of the Orthoptic Service at Emory University and continued to contribute to the activity.
  • He helped formulate legislation to establish the local Georgia Lion's Eye Bank, began the campaign for the Emory Eye Center which was constructed in 1984, and he also established the Georgia Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology.
  • In 1983 he received the first Florence McConnel "People of Vision" Award given by the Georgia Society to Prevent Blindness.
  • At their October 1990 meeting, the Board of Directors of the American Association of Certified Orthoptists bestowed  Phinizy — and Mary Ellen —- with honorary memberships.
  • He was the First Recipient of the L.E. Brown award by the Georgia Society of Ophthalmology for his commitment and contributions to ophthalmology.


    Throughout his career he received numerous awards and honors including 

  • Alpha Omega Alpha, Emory University 1968
  • President, Georgia Society of Ophthalmology 1973-74
  • Award of Honor, Medical Alumni Association, Emory University 1978
  • President, American Ophthalmological Society, 1978-79


    He remained in private practice at Crawford Long Hospital with his wife Mary Ellen from his "official" retirement in 1979 until 1994.  After closing the office, Phinizy remained very active in many pursuits.  He completed a wonderful book of family history entitled "Grandmother Was A Phinizy", and continued to develop another called "The Mysterious Major Phinizy" about the ancestor whose name he holds. 

    He passed away at Emory University Hospital on June 21, 1995, one month after suffering a severe thalamic stroke.  He was eighty-four. 

    Physician to many, husband to one, father and father-in law, historian, genealogist, poet, musician, humorist, friend, family, brother and son — he is all these things and so much more. He will forever hold our love, respect and gratitude for touching our lives in so many ways.

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