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In loving memory of
Thomas Richard Bates
  • December 19, 1935
  • -
  • February 05, 2023

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“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to deliver good news to the poor, to give sight to the blind, and to free everyone who suffers.” Those were Jesus’ words to the crowd that gathered in Nazareth when Jesus returned from the wilderness. Jesus’ words also perfectly describe the life of Dr. Thomas R. Bates (“Tom”). Tom was born in Mansfield, Ohio, on December 19, 1935, and died at home, peacefully, on February 5th, 2023. He was a gifted physician and devoted family man who served the poor, restored the vision of thousands of people across the world, gave hope to those who suffered.

Growing up in Ohio there was only one school Tom was ever going to attend – The Ohio State University. Tom raced through Ohio State the same way he raced through life, with enthusiasm and excellence. He completed his undergraduate studies in three years and was offered early admission to The Ohio State University College of Medicine. While Tom was completing his internship and residency, America was entering the Vietnam War. Tom enlisted in the United States Navy and was assigned to the Pensacola Naval Air Station where he began a distinguished career of 34 years of service, active-duty, and reserves.

During his Naval service, Captain Bates was also stationed in Italy, Japan, and most notably, McMurdo Station on Ross Island in the Antarctic. Tom was the only doctor assigned to McMurdo Station where he spent a year treating all manner of conditions, from frostbite to fractures, performing an emergency appendectomy, and even operating on the sled dogs when needed. As a result of “wintering over” in the Antarctic, Tom was inducted as a Life Member in the Old Antarctic Explorers Association.

Upon completing active-duty service, Tom continued to serve in the Navy Reserves while entering private practice as an ophthalmologist in Winter Park, Florida. Tom practiced medicine as he lived his life, with energy, dedication, and compassion. His skill as an ophthalmologist and surgeon was renowned, and he was asked to demonstrate his technique to other doctors as a teaching surgeon at the University of Florida, University of South Florida, and Bethesda Naval Hospital.

As skilled as he was as a physician, it was the way he communicated with his patients that separated Tom from those that simply practiced medicine. Tom knew his patients by name, called them at home to make sure they were doing well, and wrote them letters on special occasions. Tom loved his patients, and they loved him.

Tom loved his work, his patients, and Ohio State football, but his one true love was his wife, Helen. Tom was so taken by Helen that he proposed after the first week of dating. What began as a one-week whirlwind courtship, became a loving marriage of 42 years. Tom and Helen’s marriage was grounded in their shared Christian faith, their love of family, and their community service. Tom volunteered to serve on the Board of Vision Health International where he conducted medical mission trips to Central America, South America, and Eastern Europe. Tom also served on a Mercy Ship mission where he and his team set up a floating surgical center to perform eye surgery in impoverished areas. Over the years Tom restored the sight of thousands of people who otherwise had no access to medical care. Tom’s desire to help others was not limited to international missions, he served the local community as well. Tom is one of the founding members of IDignity, a Central Florida charity that provides legal identification services to the poor and the homeless.

Dr. Thomas R. Bates is survived by his wife Helen, his children and their spouses: Lura (Bobby), Tommy (Nathalie), Bradley (Reiko), Chip (Silvia), Peggy (Don), Ramelle (Gregor), 16 grand-children: Bobby, Peyton, Polly, Karlin, Ellie, Anna, Julia, Gylla, Mary Helen, Morgan, Sarah, Campbell, Tommy, Beau, Jackson, Ray, and 2 great grand-children, Elora and Sophie. Tom is not just survived by his immediate family, he is also survived by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of patients whose sight he restored and whose lives he changed for the better. That is his true legacy. Tom had a gift for healing, and he shared that gift with the world.

A Celebration of Life service will be held at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in downtown Orlando on Saturday, March 18, 2023, at 11:00 am. In lieu of flowers and, in the event you wish to honor Tom’s memory, tell your family and friends that you love them. Serve your community locally and internationally. Support a medical or spiritual mission with a gift to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (Orlando, FL) for the Community Center of Finca 6, IDignity, Vision Health International or the charity of your choice. Make the world a better place, one person at a time.

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  1. rachel baca says:
    08 Mar 2023
    I had the opportunity to meet this kind man, on a VHI trip to the Dominican Republic. Such a nice person. My condolences to your family.

  2. Richard and Linda Barr says:
    28 Feb 2023
    My wife and I worked with Tom on many VHI trips . He was a joy to work with and did indeed care enormously for his patients . He was also just fun to be around . He exemplified what it means to be a Christian. Heaven will never be the same !

  3. Chip lit a candle:
    24 Feb 2023
    Lit since February 24, 2023 at 2:08:37 AM

  4. Gail Gentile says:
    24 Feb 2023
    I worked for Dr. Bates for several years until he retired. What a wonderful life! Thanks Helen for sharing him with all of us. Everytime I think of him I smile. Rest in peace Dr. Bates.

  5. Suzanne Barnes says:
    23 Feb 2023
    Our sincerest condolences to the entire family, Tom was practically family to us, speaking at our dad (Gus Roess) service and being there for us for our entire lives. We are so grateful to all that Tom did for us. Many blessings.

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