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December 15, 2020

Dean Marshak forever changed veterinary medicine at UPenn

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Dr. Marshak
Dr. Robert R. Marshak

Dr. Robert R. Marshak, the Vermont dairy practitioner who became University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine dean and sparked a renaissance in clinical science within the veterinary profession, died Oct. 20, 2020. He was 97.

“Dean Marshak’s accomplishments as dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine are surpassed only by his unwavering love and dedication to our community. He worked tirelessly to redefine the veterinary profession and he is unquestionably the ‘Father of Veterinary Clinical Specialties,’” said Dr. Andrew M. Hoffman, dean of the UPenn veterinary school, in a statement.

Born in New York City on Feb. 23, 1923, Dr. Marshak would earn his veterinary degree in 1945 from Cornell University. After graduation, he started a successful dairy practice in Springfield, Vermont, that he ran until 1956, when he accepted a faculty position at Penn Vet. Within two years, Dr. Marshak was appointed chair of the Department of Medicine.

Under Dr. Marshak’s direction, the veterinary school’s curriculum was remade with a focus on clinical medicine. Writing in the Summer 1987 edition of the veterinary school’s magazine, Dr. John E. Martin explained, “Dr. Marshak was keenly concerned about the great disparity between the programs for clinical science in medical schools and those in veterinary schools, and he lost no time in attacking this situation in a variety of ways.”

He recruited clinician-scientists who had established reputations, reconfigured work schedules so hospital clinicians had time available for research, and defined clinical veterinary specialties in response to the evolving need for advanced levels of competency.

In September 1973, Dr. Marshak was appointed dean of the UPenn veterinary school. During his 14-year tenure, Dr. Marshak oversaw the construction of the school’s small animal hospital in the mid-1970s, enhancements and additions to Widener Hospital at New Bolton Center, and construction of the C. Mahlon Kline Center for Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, home to the veterinary school’s large animal orthopedic surgical suite and pool recovery system.

“I attended the School of Veterinary Medicine from 1974 to 1980 when it was ‘Bob Marshak’s School,’” said Dr. Joan C. Hendricks, Penn Vet dean from 2006-18, in a statement. “I was specifically there to be trained in the pioneering VMD-PhD program. His brilliance and innovation were palpable.”

Dr. Marshak retired as dean in July 1987.

He was a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and served as president in 1975. He served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the American Journal of Veterinary Research, Journal of the American Veterinary Radiology Society, and Cornell Veterinarian.

Dr. Marshak is survived by his second wife, Margo; three sons and a stepson; and a grandchild.

Memorial contributions may be made to the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and mailed to Penn Vet Office of Institutional Advancement, 3800 Spruce St., Suite 151E, Philadelphia, Pa. 19104, or via the Penn Vet website.

Read more December 15, 2020 JAVMA News obituaries