Bernard Becker was born in New York City in 1920. He graduated from Princeton University in 1941 and from Harvard Medical School in 1944. After an internship at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, he served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps before completing his training in ophthalmology at the Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He then briefly served on the faculty at Johns Hopkins before coming to Washington University, where he served as Head of the Ophthalmology Department from 1953 until 1988.
Dr. Becker dedicated his research and clinical practice to glaucoma, and he was instrumental in establishing the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), the world's leading organization for ophthalmology research. He served as president of that group and also as director of the American Board of Ophthalmology. In addition, he was a founding member of the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology, and played a vital role in establishing the National Eye Institute, where he served in many leadership positions.
Dr. Becker chaired the committee that oversaw design and construction of the Washington University Medical Library, which was completed in 1989. The building was renamed the Bernard Becker Medical Library in his honor in 1995. Dr. Becker was also an avid book collector who accumulated over 600 volumes of rare medical books on the sciences of the eye and light. He generously gave his collection to the medical school, where they are housed in the Archives and Rare Books Department of the Becker Library. The Bernard Becker Collection in Ophthalmology and Optics span some five hundred years and include works such as Georg Bartisch's 16th century monograph Opthalmodouleia, which was the first comprehensive work on eye diseases and their treatments; two incunabula (books printed prior to 1500), and works by key scientific figures such as Antonio Scarpa and Francesco Redi.