Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

Multigenerational veterinary families demonstrate persistence, achievement
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Illustration: Tree with green leaves

Dr. Colin Campbell Baird grew up poor. To save enough money for veterinary school, he worked as a horse groom for Dr. William Dick—yes, that Dr. William Dick, the namesake of the University of Edinburgh Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Scotland.

Colin graduated from Dick Vet in 1852, and he owned an equine practice in nearby Cupar for more than a decade that, at its height, employed 30 full-time blacksmiths to shoe the draft horses that proliferated throughout the area’s ports and streets.

Colin was so successful that Dr. Dick asked him to join the school as professor of clinical studies. He taught from 1874-1894 while running a new practice just a few hundred meters from the school. The York Lane Clinic housed his family upstairs, while downstairs, Colin had surgery and consulting rooms and a horseshoeing forge behind it.

Little could Colin have known then that his practice would switch from equine to small animal medicine and continue operating for more than 100 years by three subsequent generations of Bairds.

Families with multiple generations of veterinarians have a unique perspective of the profession. Their histories mirror the evolution of veterinary medicine as an art and a science, as new procedures and drugs were developed and research came about. JAVMA News has interviewed a few of these uncommon clans to explore their journeys and examine how each generation got bit by the veterinary bug.

Through the ages

Colin’s descendants have done more than simply carry on the Baird name. Dr. Archibald “The Major” Baird (EDN 1877), Colin’s son, lectured and served as an external examiner for Dick Vet while practicing at York Lane. He was also asked by the British Army to care for its prestigious cavalry regiment, the Royal Scot Greys.

Baird family tree
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The Major’s son, Dr. Archibald William Baird Jr. (EDN 1921), fought in the Gallipoli and Dardanelle campaigns during World War I and practiced at York Lane when he returned from the war.

Dr. Archibald “Archie” Campbell Baird (EDN ’54), the great-grandson of Dr. Colin Campbell Baird, was the fourth and final generation to practice at the York Place Clinic in Edinburgh.

Archie said that when he was young, “I just remember horses that came and went. I have a picture of them standing in the street and not a car in sight.”

His path to becoming a veterinarian was a bumpy one. Archie’s father fell ill and his mother had to take over the clinic when he was 12. World War II began not long after. He and his brother, Roger, were sent to live in the U.S. with a family friend. They spent a few years in Los Angeles before moving to New Mexico. Archie attended New Mexico State University for two years, until he reached 18—the age for conscription into the U.S. Army. Deciding to fight for his home country, Archie crossed over to Canada and joined the Royal Air Force. He later returned to the United Kingdom and served for four years as a fighter and glider pilot.

After the war, Dick Vet “took pity,” he said, on him and Roger, and they were accepted.

“The course was five years, but we both played far too much rugby, and it took six years,” Archie said.

Baird family photo
Dr. Archibald Campbell Baird as a boy with his father, Dr. Archibald William Baird, and his grandfather, Dr. Archibald "The Major" Baird, in 1928. (Courtesy of Colin Warwick)

He took up the remains of his father’s practice, which his mom had kept going after his father died in 1941.

Archie started as a mixed animal practitioner because of the many farms around the perimeter of Edinburgh. But as the city grew, he switched to small animal practice.

Eventually, he said, “The health and safety regulations got very disagreeable as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t be bothered to fill out too many forms. I’d get calls at night and wouldn’t mind that, but writing forms was not my bag.” Archie quit his practice in the mid-’80s.

It was around this time that he discovered “a funny golf bag” in his basement. Archie learned it was an old wooden set owned by his wife’s great-grandfather, William Park Sr., who won the first Open Golf Championship held at Prestwick Golf Club, in 1860.

“These clubs were ready-made antiques. I scoured all the shops and picked more up,” said Archie, who later accumulated more golf memorabilia from the many antique shops in Edinburgh. The memorabilia have become major collectors’ items.

He and his wife, Sheila, now live in Aberlady, 14 miles east of Edinburgh. For the past 30 years, he’s been proprietor of the Heritage of Golf Museum.

“It’s paradise,” Archie said. “I’m just into my 90th year, and I’m still keeping my head above the water.”

The making of a dynasty

On this side of the pond, perhaps one of the most well-known veterinary families is the Hagyard/Fallon clan, which boasts five generations. Members of this family were there at the advent of penicillin and automobiles. Hagyard doctors were instrumental in developing parasite control programs for foals and were influential in the initial use of inhalation anesthesia in horses. Of course, Hagyards have also treated some of the most famous racehorses in the world.

It all started with Dr. Edward Thomas Hagyard (EDN 1839), who was one of the original faculty members at the Toronto Veterinary College (later the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College) when he was hired in 1849 as a veterinary surgeon.

Hagyard/Fallon family tree
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In 1875, Dr. Hagyard was called to Kentucky to consult on a valuable Shorthorn bull named The Eighth Duke of Geneva, who had an intractable gastrointestinal problem. Dr. Hagyard’s expertise so impressed the local cattlemen and horsemen that he was encouraged to move to the Lexington area and set up a veterinary practice, which he did in 1876, according to a history of the clinic compiled by the Kentucky VMA. The practice focused mostly on horse and cattle work but also welcomed small animals.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the influx of new wealth from Northeastern industrialists allowed Lexington to gain greater stature as a Thoroughbred center. Nearby Nashville was regaining prominence, too, as a breeding and racing center, which it had been prior to the Civil War. It was around this time Dr. Hagyard’s three sons—Drs. Thomas H. Hagyard (ONT 1878), John Robert Hagyard (ONT 1875), and Edward “Dr. Ed” Weddel Hagyard (ONT 1888)—joined their father’s practice. In 1891, the E.T. Hagyard and Sons veterinary hospital was built.

The hospital, later renamed Hagyard & Hagyard, had transitioned into an equine-exclusive practice by the time Dr. Ed’s son, Dr. Charles E. Hagyard (ONT 1924), joined. “Doc Charlie,” who practiced from 1924 to the 1960s, cared for four Triple Crown winners and was Man ’O War’s veterinarian. Doc Charlie also was a founding member during the 1940s of the Breeders’ Sales Co. (later to become the Keeneland Sales Co.) and, along with his father, was a founding member of the Thoroughbred Club of America.

The family veterinary lineage continued through the marriage of Doc Charlie’s sister, Esther, to John Harold Fallon. Their son, Dr. Edward “Doc” Hagyard Fallon (COR 1956), joined the practice after graduation and retired in 2002.

He was one of the first practitioners in North America to refine ovarian palpation in mares. Plus, he established at the practice many now-common procedures, such as estrus synchronization and an artificial lighting program to trigger heat cycles.

Dr. Ed Hagyard and members of the Lexington downtown scene
"Dr. Ed" Hagyard had an open door for members of the Lexington downtown scene who would drop by for a dose of "office gin" derived from a 35-gallon drum of pure ethyl alcohol kept for "medicinal purposes." (Courtesy of Luke Fallon)

Dr. Fallon had four children, including Dr. Luke Hagyard Fallon (COR 1996), who is a member of the practice, now called the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. He says there are “some old medical items floating around the practice,” such as surgical instruments and even a few unopened ampules of neoarsphenamine and other drugs that are 100 years old or older.

“I can certainly say it’s a privilege to be part of a legacy, and we are privileged to work for excellent clients who own some of the best horses in their respective disciplines,” Luke said. “Here in central Kentucky, we’re in a unique position because of the Thoroughbred history and equine history. Our practice has kind of evolved with the horse industry in Kentucky, especially in the post–Civil War era. Our role has gone from the horse being a beast of burden and wheels of commerce to an animal for entertainment.”

Discovering the passion

As the profession evolves, it’s becoming more common to see women carrying on a family’s veterinary heritage.

In two years, Rebecca Gounaris (VMR 2016) will be a third-generation veterinarian. Her grandfather, Dr. Theodore Gounaris (GA 1955), passed away before she was born, but her father, Dr. Scott Gounaris (FL 1982), still owns a private small animal practice, Pleasantville Animal Hospital, in Fallston, Md.

Gounaris family tree
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Scott worked as an assistant for his father in his teens. He was fascinated with how Theodore used medicine to help animals get healthy. Scott says he feels lucky that he chose to pursue the profession and that he made the right decision going to veterinary college. Further, he enjoyed working with his father, who was already “semiretired” when he went to work with him.

“He taught me to really pay attention and use my brain and think about what I’m doing before I jump in and do a lot of tests that aren’t necessary,” Scott said.

After three years of father and son working together, Theodore died of a heart attack. Scott took over the hospital. He expanded the building and lived above it with his wife after their marriage. After a year or two, Scott sold the practice and bought a new building that he developed into an animal hospital when Rebecca was young. Eventually, he found land in Fallston and in 2002 built his current practice.

Rebecca was a kennel assistant for her dad in high school and became a veterinary assistant after her freshman year at the University of Delaware.

“My father working in veterinary medicine has been a key part of my life. But I probably took that for granted until I went to undergrad,” Rebecca said. “I always knew I wanted to do something for animals. Being the daughter of a veterinarian, animals are a part of your life from the get-go.”

Rebecca says her dad is thrilled she’s chosen to become a veterinarian, but he never pushed her. She had to “discover the passion” herself. And now that she has, Rebecca said she’s grateful that she can enter the profession with a mentor and client base. She plans to join her father and incorporate avian medicine into the practice. She dreams of eventually becoming board-certified in avian medicine.

Dr. Scott Gounaris and daughter, Rebecca
Dr. Scott Gounaris shows his daughter, Rebecca, how to walk dogs. Today, Rebecca is a second-year student at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. (Courtesy of Rebecca Gounaris)

Scott has made no secret of the fact that he’s wanted Rebecca to join his practice.

“I don’t think Rebecca realizes how difficult it is to work for someone else at a set salary and someone else makes the rules and the pressure that exists for you to pull your weight; running your own hospital has a lot of benefits. Owners want to make sure you’re not only practicing good medicine but also helping to maintain the standards of their business,” Scott said.

Scott also hopes to help Rebecca in other ways, such as passing on his 30-plus years of veterinary knowledge.

“I always thought it’d be great to teach, but there’s much more pride and love involved in teaching offspring than a stranger,” he said.

Even more than that, Scott enjoys being in the middle of a multigenerational veterinary family, which affords him greater perspective.

“I know how medicine was practiced a long time ago with no computers and the file card and price sheet in hand,” Scott said. “And now the drugs are different and the standards of care are much higher. Legally, we’re more responsible for things now, too. I’m looking forward to teaching her, but I’m looking forward to learning about new advancements in the veterinary field from her as well.”

He continued, “I can tell Rebecca how things used to be and then show her how things are now. Who knows what will happen in 30 years for her.”

All in the family

No official numbers exist on the number of families with three or more generations of veterinarians, but the following are a few of the more widely known clans:

  • The Case family (four generations) of Georgia, which still runs the Case Veterinary Hospital, founded in 1909.
  • The Gouge family (three generations) of Missouri, which still runs the G and G Veterinary Hospital, founded in 1937.
  • The Lukens family (four generations) of Ohio.
  • The Nelson family (four generations) of Mississippi.
  • The Pomeroy (three generations), Tomsche (four generations), Porter (four generations), and Vollmar (four generations) families of Minnesota.
  • The Weiner family (three generations) of Delaware/New York.

Notably, the American Veterinary Medical History Society maintains a registry to recognize heritage veterinary practices in the U.S. that have been in continuous operation since their founding at least half a century ago. The registry of heritage practices, an application form, and additional details are available here.

Related JAVMA content:

Historic hospitals (July 15, 2013)