Chu bids Eyeland practice farewell

Dr. Franklin Chu’s longtime patient, islander Mary Hallett, gets a final check-up and says “bon voyage” with a hug goodbye.  - Ryan Schierling/Staff Photo
Dr. Franklin Chu’s longtime patient, islander Mary Hallett, gets a final check-up and says “bon voyage” with a hug goodbye.
— image credit: Ryan Schierling/Staff Photo

The ophthalmologist shifts focus to training doctors in his native China.

Dr. Franklin Chu dedicated his professional life to helping islanders see clearly.

Now the island ophthalmologist takes a clear-eyed look at his own future.

The longtime island resident has sold his practice to Kitsap-based Pacific EyeCare, a change that takes effect Sept. 2.

Motivating the decision, he says, were such developments in the health care system as increased paperwork, the proliferation of insurance plans, and the preference of health maintenance organizations for keeping services in-house.

“On the positive side, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my career here,” Chu said. “I’m grateful for the support I’ve received. There are many patients I will miss dearly.”

Chu moved to Bainbridge in 1976 when he was hired to teach in the University of Washington’s department of ophthalmology. In 1979, he opened a private practice here.

He and his wife, Linnea, participated in Bainbridge life while raising five children. A member of Bethany Lutheran Church, Chu sang with the Bainbridge Chorale and served as board president for Poulsbo’s Martha and Mary retirement home.

Now he returns to teaching to round out his career. Traveling at the invitation of the Chinese government under the auspices of Medical Services International, Chu leaves for Sichuan Province in October to train doctors to perform eye surgery.

The operations will be performed free of charge for poverty-stricken Yi farmers and other minority people, many of whom are disabled in middle age by cataracts.

Freed from the need to keep up his practice, he can stay in China to revisit doctors he trained on his four previous trips.

“I used to go as team leader and leave,” Chu said. “Now I can stay a month. I’ve had the plan in mind for a while. I feel thoroughly rejuvenated and revitalized.”

Buoyed by faith

Good works are in the tradition of Chu’s family, Christians who escaped from Communist China in 1950.

Converted by a Norwegian missionary, his great-grandfather embraced Lutheranism and his grandfather became the first ordained Lutheran minister in China. The Chu family lived in Henan Province, blessed with everything good in life – except sons.

“He had three daughters,” Chu said. “Finally my grandmother went to pray at the church. She promised that if she were given a son, he would be dedicated to the ministry.”

Chu’s father Daniel was born in 1917, a rebellious spirit who would wait 30 years to fulfill his mother’s promise. In 1948, he came to America to study theology, leaving Franklin and his mother in China.

By early 1949, Beijing was under Communist rule, and defeated nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek had fled to Taiwan. In October of that year, the People’s Republic of China was declared.

Chu’s father waited in Hong Kong.

Following China’s entry into the Korean War in the fall of 1950, the new government initiated a campaign against “enemies of the state.” Foreigners and missionaries were targeted, as they had been during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

It was against this threatening backdrop that the family got a near-miraculous break. Franklin and his mother were issued passes to travel to Hong Kong to join his father.

“Somehow or another we got lucky,” he said. “We were on the last train that got out. My grandparents were supposed to be on the next train, but they never made it.”

Chu grew up in Springfield, Ohio, where his father served a Caucasian congregation in St. Luke’s Church “as a missionary in reverse,” Chu says.

“I really feel fortunate that we came here, and that I had my education in America, at Johns Hopkins,” he said.

“And I feel fortunate to have lived on Bainbridge, because I’ve had a very fulfilling career serving people in this community.

“And now I feel I want a change in direction.”

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