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‘Visionary’ who helped develop natural-looking soft contact lenses

Sam Loshaek

Sam Loshaek

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Updated: January 8, 2013 6:18AM

Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”: “Can you even dye my eyes to match my gown?”

Manicurist: “Uh-huh.”

Dorothy: “Jolly old town!”


Honey amber.

Emerald green.

Liz Taylor violet.

Thanks to Sam Loshaek, contact lens wearers can change eye color as easily as eye shadow.

He led the team that developed the first natural-looking soft contact lenses to alter the eye’s hue.

Mr. Loshaek, who worked for Wesley-Jessen Corporation and Borden Chemical, and held at least 40 patents, died Nov. 7 at his home in Florida. He was 88.

In the history of the contact lens, “he was a true visionary,” said Dwight Akerman, director of professional affairs at Alcon.

He came a long way. Once, he’d been a skinny 4-year-old boy whose family immigrated from Russia — with $6 between them. In their new homeland in Canada, his father salvaged scrap metal and his mother sewed rags together to make the family’s clothes.

His father, Looe, and his mother, Fanny, were from a village about 75 miles from Odessa, said Mr. Loshaek’s wife of 32 years, Rise.

Looe Loshaek was determined to leave the Old Country after the Russian Revolution erupted in 1917, according to a 2003 story about the family in the Calgary Herald, a Canadian newspaper. “Like scars,” Sherri Zickefoose wrote, “[Looe] carried memories of frozen bodies lining the railroad tracks — nearly an entire village wiped out by the Bolsheviks.”

Sam Loshaek attended the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where he received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in organic chemistry. He earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he met his first wife, Joyce. They had four daughters. Joyce Loshaek died before him.

Mr. Loshaek and his family lived in Philadelphia and Connecticut as he advanced in his career. Then Wesley-Jessen recruited him to head its Research and Development department at 400 W. Huron, said Orrin Stine, former chief of Wesley-Jessen.

Up until that time, Bausch + Lomb was the market leader, Stine said. Wesley-Jessen “could not succeed unless it had a different product — the world didn’t need another transparent contact lens.”

“His work developed the first natural-looking contact lens that changed eye color,” Stine said. “He’s the one that made it happen. I had the concept; he executed it, and very well.”

When Whoopi Goldberg flashed blue peepers on a magazine cover, “Those were our lenses,” Stine said.

“He made Wesley-Jessen — whom he worked for at the time — a viable entity in the industry,” said George Meszaros, past president of the Contact Lens Manufacturers Association and founder of Polychem USA. “Wesley-Jessen was the first [company] that made cosmetic lenses that looked natural on the eye.”

Unlike the artificial-looking tinted lenses that came before his, those developed by Mr. Loshaek had striations that resembled the patterns of the human iris. “The portion that was colored, had texture; little lines in it,” Meszaros said.

“It was a photographic process,” Meszaros continued. “He was instrumental in being able to translate that photograph onto the contact lens.’’

“The iris pattern looked like a real eye, rather than something like a robot,” said Dan Bell, a specialty contact lens maker, and another past president of the CLMA.

Mr. Loshaek liked playing tennis; hitting Bacinos for deep-dish pizza, and visiting blues clubs, especially B.L.U.E.S., where a favorite talent was saxophonist Eddie Shaw. He also enjoyed going to the ballet, opera, symphony and theater, his wife said.

He is also survived by his daughters, Laurie Loshaek, Barbara Loshaek, Paula Listzwan and Sally Jania; five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. A private memorial is planned in Florida.

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