A St. Louis native, he continued his hometown ties as a graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, followed by graduating from the College of Optometry in 1996. He established his practice, Optical Expressions, soon after graduation. Over the last 21 years, he has hired four UMSL graduates or faculty members (Drs. Judie Miles (‘93), Daniel Purvis (’16), Julia Emming Thomas (‘03), and Jeff Weaver). However, Dr. Tom Cullinane’s legacy will forever be his dedication to – and advocacy for – the profession of optometry.
Dr. Cullinane’s interest in being involved – and ultimately becoming a leader in the profession – began at UMSL: “Since school I have always been involved in organized optometry. I was the UMSL AOSA treasurer for three years. Then I began serving on the SLOS board a few years after graduation, culminating as president in 2007. Then in 2004 I was asked to serve on the MOA board as trustee and accepted. It was a contentious time for SLOS and the MOA. For years SLOS had excellent trustees that became “burned out” due to all of the work as trustee. I served as trustee until 2014 and then started the path to presidency on the Executive Board.”
His efforts were rewarded when, in October 2017, he was elected President of the Missouri Optometric Association. He was very qualified to be in the state’s highest elected professional office. In a profession requiring advocacy with our elected officials, he was the individual who constantly reminded the optometrists is his society as well as the state to donate to a political campaign, attend a political fundraiser, be proactive, and meet with your legislators. No one was a stronger advocate than Dr. Cullinane.
His term as president ended on Saturday, October 13th, but he leaves a strong legacy to a position that he truly loved. “I really enjoyed the work!!!! I have always done my best to serve, protect, and better optometry on a daily basis. Lee Ann and Sue at the MOA office helped immensely. They would keep me up-to-date on a daily basis and really helped make the job easier. I visited each of our societies in Missouri to discuss issues pertaining to each. I went to Optometry’s Meeting in Denver and represented the MOA. It was a ton of work and time out of the office, but I really enjoyed the presidency and would love to do it again if called upon. I look forward to my year as past president and mentoring some of our young leaders.”
Dr. Lee Ann Barrett (’85), Executive Director of the MOA, was especially appreciative of Dr. Cullinane’s efforts. “Dr. Tom Cullinane was very much a hands-on president. He has guided us through the culmination of our insurance plan and the restructuring of our Board of Directors. He truly cares about the profession of optometry.”
An effective leader has to devote an inordinate amount of time to prepare, travel, engage with constituents, and successfully lead their profession through essential issues. Dr. Cullinane has been an effective leader. The recent restructuring of the state societies accompanied by reallocating the trustees was one such issue that was very controversial and potentially very contentious. Dr. Cullinane was able to lead the efforts to pass this amendment. Dean Larry Davis had a front row seat to this and all other admirable achievements by Dr. Cullinane: “Tom demonstrated a commitment to positive change and will be remembered for proposing two initiatives, directed toward longstanding and unresolved challenges for the MOA. First, he proposed a creative change in the dues structure to reduce the loss of early career AOA/MOA members. Although ultimately stalled from the lack of broad support in the 2018 AOA House of Delegates, his proposal served to generate productive conversation around creative ways to encourage lifelong membership in the two organizations. Tom did, however, champion a change in the MOA bylaws that will provide a more consistent and sustainable composition of the board. Tom demonstrated his love for optometry and the willingness to pursue solutions in areas where other ideas have proved unsuccessful.”