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July 01, 2020

Robert L. Leighton, distinguished surgeon, dies at 102

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Dr. Robert L. Leighton, a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons who for nearly two decades taught surgery at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, died Jan. 22, 2020, just shy of his 103rd birthday. He was an honor roll member of the AVMA.

Dr. Leighton
Dr. Robert L. Leighton

Born Feb. 27, 1917, in Boston, Dr. Leighton attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a veterinary degree in 1941. Afterward, he interned at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston before being hired there as a junior staff surgeon. He subsequently served two years in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps during World War II.

From 1944-56, Dr. Leighton was chief of surgery at what is now known as the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Angell Animal Medical Center–Western New England in Springfield, Massachusetts. He moved in 1956 to New York City to be chief of surgery at what is now the Animal Medical Center. Dr. Leighton helped design the AMC building that opened in 1962 on East 62nd Street.

Known as an innovative surgeon, Dr. Leighton designed surgical instruments and orthopedic implants fabricated by his father, a machinist, including the Leighton shuttle pin for stabilizing distal ulnar fractures.

In 1965, Dr. Leighton joined the veterinary faculty at UC-Davis. He was instrumental in establishing the American College of Veterinary Surgeons as a charter member that same year. Dr. Leighton taught veterinary surgery and provided orthopedic surgical care at UC-Davis until his retirement as a professor emeritus in 1982.

Dr. Leighton authored or co-authored numerous book chapters, scientific articles, and textbooks, including “Small Animal Orthopedics,” “A Compendium of Small Animal Surgery,” and “Radiology of Small Animal Fracture Management.”

During his later years, Dr. Leighton wrote children’s stories that he read to schoolchildren in Davis, California. On the basis of his veterinary experiences, he authored “Dog Stories for Spencer” for his grandson Spencer to encourage children to read and learn about dogs.

Dr. Leighton was preceded in death by his wife, Jeanette, and is survived by a son and two grandchildren.