A 55-year-old black man developed anterior nodular scleritis in his left eye in November 1981. He had no symptoms of systemic disease, and initial laboratory tests revealed only a positive rheumatoid factor. Fourteen months later he presented with pericarditis and aortic insufficiency requiring aortic valve replacement. Examination of excised valvular and pericardial tissue showed changes compatible with rheumatoid disease. Shortly after the surgery he developed florid rheumatoid arthritis. The clinical course of this patient illustrates how scleritis can be the initial sign of severe systemic disease.