When John Via III, D. Eng, is passionate about something, it shows.
After starting at Drexel four years ago, he now occupies several roles: associate dean of administrative and technical operations, department head of Engineering Management and a teaching professor in the College of Engineering.
Then there are the seven higher-education degrees that he has earned: a Doctor of Engineering, five different master’s degrees (including two from Drexel: a chemical engineering degree earned in 1991 and an engineering management degree in 1994!) and a bachelor’s degree.
Most importantly, there’s his dedication to improving people’s lives by saving and preserving eyesight. Via first started working on eye products at Merck as a Drexel graduate student in the early ‘90s. He then spent 20 years working at Alcon, a global pharmaceutical and medical device company specializing in eye care products. He also served on the company’s foundation, which donates products and arranges for free eye care around the world and especially in the Middle East, where citizens are at a higher risk for blindness and debilitating eye conditions.
Additionally, Via has served on the boards of about 20 foundations and organizations, including those that relate to eye care, such as the Lighthouse for the Blind, and those that do not, such as the SafeHaven organization that provides support and services for victims of domestic violence.
“It’s really just about helping people,” said Via. “And most people don’t fully appreciate the gift of sight until they lose it.”
His dedication to eye care and philanthropy did not go unnoticed. Via was recently inducted into The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Order of St. John, which is a prestigious 900-year-old humanitarian charity and an order of chivalry headed by Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
In most of the former British Commonwealth, the Order of St. John focuses on providing first-aid training, ambulance and emergency medical services, but the American Red Cross already covered those services by the time the Priory of the United States branch was started in 1957. The American branch focuses on eye care by sponsoring the St. John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group, which provides free services to patients in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.
Unfortunately, the queen did not attend the formal investiture ceremony in New York City in October. Via and about 100 other Americans were formally inducted in an event that was “like a wedding, a graduation and a Mass all in one,” according to Via.
He is now one of 1,500 Americans and 25,000 total members of the organization. Other members have included British royalty and Nelson Mandela — plus members of the Drexel family.
John R. Drexel III (1919-2007), the great-grandson of University founder Anthony J. Drexel, was a highly ranked leader of the U.S. organization and played a large role in getting the organization started as a foundation. His son John Drexel IV, a former University trustee, succeeded him and led the organization to become a formal Priory of the Order of St. John in the 1990s; he now serves as prior emeritus and life governor for the Priory.
“When I was looking into the history of the Order of St. John and found out about the Drexel connection, I just started laughing,” said Via. “It is a very small world sometimes.”
This article originally appeared in the winter issue of Drexel Quarterly.