Doris Eagle

Doris Eagle, a staff member in the Mason Eye Institute, was recognized with the Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award during 2016 Staff Recognition Week.

Big things always start out small. For Doris Eagle of the Mason Eye Institute, a lifetime of service that includes mission trips to Mexico and restoring sight to the blind began with her grandmother’s small coin purse.

As a child, Eagle spent a lot of time with her grandmother, who constantly impressed her with her giving attitude. “There was nobody she wouldn’t help,” Eagle says. That included strangers in front of her in the grocery store checkout line.

Back when you had to buy food with cash, Eagle looked up at adults searching frantically through pockets and purses for the last dollar they needed to pay for that week’s groceries. Then she’d watch her grandmother pull out her coin purse, unsnap the clasp, take out enough change to cover the shortage and hand it to the person. It was a small gesture, though not to the person she helped. Sometimes, after the person thanked her and left, her grandmother would put one of her own items back. It wasn’t just spare change she had given; it was her own grocery money.

That example has guided Eagle throughout her life.

Service

For the past 19 years Eagle has worked as the executive assistant to the department chair of ophthalmology at the Mason Eye Institute. She was recognized Monday, as part of Staff Recognition Week, with the Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award for clerical and office workers.

“Nobody gets anywhere on their own. I see people every single day who — they don’t have to be nice to strangers they’ll never meet again. But they are.”

In her job, Eagle brings the same attitude she saw in her grandmother. She often gets calls from patients who are panicked about a change in their vision, desperate for an appointment at the busy center. The easy thing would be to say, “Sorry, we’re full today.” But she doesn’t. “You get them in. You make it work,” she says, then demurs that her behavior makes her special. “Nobody gets anywhere on their own. I see people every single day who — they don’t have to be nice to strangers they’ll never meet again. But they are.”

Eagle found a home for her service ambitions two years ago when she was recruited to be the adviser to the campus Lions Club. Appropriately enough, the Lions’ motto is “we serve.”

Eagle jumped right in. She loves working with the students, training them in volunteerism, but she is quick to mention that membership is open to anyone — staff, student, faculty or the public.

Vision

Eagle has also gone on two Lions mission trips to Mexico, where she helped distribute 2,000 pairs of recycled eyeglasses (restoring sight and preventing blindness has been a mission of the Lions Club since its founding).

The experiences were life changing.

The first thing that hit her each time was the line. It stretched for blocks. People had camped overnight for a chance to get a piece of plastic and two pieces of glass that most Americans are content to let gather dust in a drawer.

Every patient who came through had a story. Each pair of glasses she gave away was an emotional experience. But one stands out.

Eagle’s job was to help fit the patients for the glasses, testing their eyes to see which prescription would fit them best. Kids were the most difficult, she says, because they’re quick to settle on any prescription that offers improvement. “You really have to press them,” she says, to get the best fit.

“When I got the right pair on — he saw his mother first.” The face and hands he had come to know so well from touch he could see again with his eyes.

One 10-year-old boy came in with his mother and two younger brothers. He had severe astigmatism that had made him virtually blind since he was a small child. She’d put a prescription on him and ask “Is this better?” Then she’d try another. “Is this better?”

“When I got the right pair on — he saw his mother first,” she says, goose bumps rising on her arms just in the retelling. She didn’t have to ask if it was better. Instantly, he started crying. The face and hands he had come to know so well from touch he could see again with his eyes. Then he looked at his brothers. They were young enough that he’d never seen them before. “They look just like me,” he said. Everyone was crying.

These are the moments Eagle finds comforting — people helping each other, making life a little easier together.

“You get hooked on it,” she says.

For more information on the MU Campus Lions, visit e-clubhouse.org/sites/mu-campus