Prem Virdi of Moline had an eye for the important things in life.
The founder of Virdi Eye Clinic, who died Jan. 2, 2023 at age 84, used his vision and compassion to raise a beautiful family and raise up his adopted community.
Dr. Virdi was born in Punjab, India, was a refugee of the India-Pakistan partition of 1947 and of the Iran Revolution of 1979. He earned his Masters in Ophthalmic Surgery in 1965 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. He taught and trained resident and fellow ophthalmologists at the University of New Delhi for 14 years, many of whom are successful refractive surgeons throughout the U.S., according to his clinic.
Dr. Virdi obtained his Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Iowa in 1980, Associate Fellow in Ophthalmology from UI in 1982, and was Board Certified in Ophthalmic Surgery in 1982, recruited to the Quad Cities to work at then Franciscan Hospital (today’s UnityPoint — Trinity), Rock Island. In 1988, he founded Virdi Eye Clinic in Rock Island and Geneseo, later opening clinics in Davenport, Muscatine, and Clinton.
He was the Chairman, Ophthalmology Division, Surgical Department of Medical Staff Franciscan Medical Center, Rock Island, in 1992. Virdi completed countless worldwide research publications, speaking engagements, and volunteer eye clinics. He was also on the Board of Directors at the Figge Art Museum, the board of the Rock Island County Health Department, and a member of Quad City Friends of India.
Virdi founded the Quad City Sikh Temple at 733 W. 53rd St., Davenport. He enjoyed gardening, photography, traveling, biking, skiing, and spending time with his grandchildren, Nico and Zahra.
A life of generosity, modesty
His only child, Manisha, on Monday described her father as extraordinarily giving and humble.
“He was always willing to take Medicare and Medicaid and low-income patients and he believed strongly in giving back,” she said. “It was really important to him to use his skills and his knowledge for anyone who needed it.”
“It was definitely a hard way to start but it was more important to him that patients got care than worrying about starting a business,” Manisha said.
Five days before he passed, Marisha knew he needed hospice care but she didn’t feel comfortable with that path.
“How do I make the choice to let him go? It felt like giving up,” she said in the eulogy she wrote for his Jan. 5 funeral. “Giving up is not a familiar feeling; not in my nature. I realized, in a flash, I don’t know how to give up because I am my father’s daughter.
“I can’t give up because my father raised me not to. I can’t give up on my father because he never gave up on me,” Manisha said. “My father was no stranger to struggle. The 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, navigating his decades of education with dyslexia, the Iran Revolution of 1979 with a brand-new infant and a young wife. Refugee twice over. Maneuvering a new country and culture, blending the new with the familiar. Practice ownership, raising a first-generation independent woman, divorce, multiple health concerns.
“My father’s life was never easy. But he never gave up,” she said. “One foot in front of the other, he kept going. He found peace in family, his patients, his garden, photography, friends, and grandchildren. He never stopped learning. When he took a break from working, he biked, skied, traveled, and mastered the art of relaxation. He was enamored by his birdhouses. He always had his hands in the dirt, the sunshine on his face. He volunteered, he taught, he saved people.
“My entire childhood, we couldn’t even go to the grocery store without someone stopping us and telling him what an impact he had had on one of their family members,” Mansha said. “Even now, my patients have so many stories of him. The nurses said he was the best dressed surgeon in the hospital; his fashion sense impeccable. Polished, sweet, social, and gentle: he taught me how to give back to our community, how to stand up for myself, to volunteer my services, to love nature, to throw a cocktail party, to take time. And time was the greatest gift my father ever gave me.
Choosing a different career path
Born in 1977 in Iran, and after a circuitous career route, she became a dentist and Virdi Dental is at 850 36th Ave., Moline. The plan when Manisha was younger was for her to take over Virdi Eye Clinic.
“But when I got to college, I got a little frustrated with what I saw at the time, with the business of medicine and so I got a little disillusioned with medicine as a career,” Manisha said, noting she first earned her undergrad degree at University of Iowa in 1999, later attended St. Ambrose and went to dental school at Creighton University in Nebraska, starting at age 34.
“I thought I was gonna major in chemistry and do something with chemistry because I love science,” she said. “I was actually at my dentist’s office at the time. And I was telling him that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I was not sure and he said, come shadow me for a week and see if you like it.
“And I immediately fell in love with it,” Manisha said. “I feel like it was all the different parts of me, all the different things I’ve done in my life like came together in one career.”
Her father likely was a little upset she didn’t pursue the vision field, but glad she became a different kind of doctor.
“He even told me when I was in undergrad, he said, do whatever you want as long as you’re happy,” Manisha recalled. “He was really supportive of the idea that I’m not going to go into medicine at the time, and so then when I came back to dentistry and came back to a healthcare profession, he was really excited.”
“He always had time for me, for my thoughts, for my sorrows and celebrations, for my children, my questions,” she said in his eulogy. “He honored me by giving me the last six months of his life, for which I will be eternally grateful. We cuddled like we did when I was a child: my head on his shoulder and his arms wrapped tight around me.
“We told stories, laughed, watched movies, and talked with my children. We accomplished incredible healing, we cried together, we erased scars, we lifted clouds. We really knew each other, maybe for the first time,” Manisha said. “The night he passed, I had a feeling it would be his last.”
“My father made me feel seen, appreciated, loved, and valued,” she said in the eulogy. “He was never short on compliments and positivity. His love for me changed my life; his love for our community changed everyone’s life. Everything my father did for me, with me, and through me provided the structure with which I carry on the Virdi name.
Through his friends from Amritsar Medical College, Manisha learned a new phrase. They said that her father was in “Chardi Kala”: a Punjabi phrase meaning to be in high spirits, ever progressive, always cheerful, perennially blossoming.
“To have an unwilting spirit, a mind that never despairs nor admits defeat and refuses to be crushed by adversities,” Manisha wrote. “A perpetual state of certitude, confidence in the ultimate victory of truth over falsehood, intensely energized, an ever-ascending state of spirit. I’ve always wondered where my personality came from and I realize now, it is my father’s legacy.”
Memorials to honor him
Dr. Virdi (who retired in 2009) and his family asked that memorials may be made to Tapestry Farms and River Action. “River Action was basically because of the environment, and the importance of keeping the river clean,” Manisha said. “He loved Nahant Marsh. He got there to take pictures a lot too.”
Tapestry Farms works with area refugees and “that was very important to him also,” she said. While he was an excellent photographer (particularly of nature and wildlife), Dr. Virdi didn’t want the attention of exhibiting them. Manisha framed several of his images, which she has displayed at her dental office.
Survivors include his grandchildren, Nico and Zahra Snider (Justin); sister Rita; and three brothers. He was preceded in death by two brothers and two sisters. Condolences may be left at www.RaffertyFunerals.com.