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October 15, 2021

Obituary: Alexander de Lahunta, veterinary neurologist, dies at 88

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Dr. de Lahunta
Dr. Alexander de Lahunta (Courtesy of Cornell University)

Dr. Alexander de Lahunta would tell you that his greatest accomplishment was teaching the introductory anatomy and embryology courses to first-year veterinary students at Cornell University, according to his obituary.

Teaching the courses allowed him to get to know every student in the class, and they all came to know him as Dr. D. He took great pride in serving as a mentor to them, and many stayed in touch with him up until his last days.

Dr. de Lahunta, 88, of Rye, New Hampshire, died Aug. 17, 2021. Along with being dedicated to teaching, the professor was a pioneer in veterinary neurology.

A 1958 veterinary graduate of Cornell University, Dr. de Lahunta spent two years in mixed animal practice in Concord, New Hampshire, before returning to Cornell to earn his doctorate in anatomy in 1963.

The veterinary college then hired him as an assistant professor, according to the Cornell Chronicle. He went on to serve as chief of the medical and surgical section of the teaching hospital from 1975-76 and as hospital director from 1976-82. He also chaired the Department of Clinical Sciences from 1977-86 and the Department of Anatomy from 1986-91. He retired in 2005.

“The loss of our beloved Dr. D. is a heavy one, both for our community and for the veterinary profession,” said Dr. Lorin D. Warnick, dean of the veterinary college, to the Cornell Chronicle. “While we grieve his passing, we also celebrate the wisdom and influence he shared with the world.”

Dr. de Lahunta’s contributions to the field of veterinary neurology include the discovery of many neurologic disorders in animals. He published five foundational textbooks and more than 260 peer-reviewed papers. The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine gave him the Robert W. Kirk Distinguished Service Award in 2000 and the Lifetime Specialty Achievement Award in June (see ACVIM meeting report).

Dr. de Lahunta established the program in clinical neurology at Cornell’s veterinary college and was in the original group of neurologists who established the neurology specialty of the ACVIM.

“Known to so many as Dr. D, he is best known as a teacher, mentor and guardian of neuroanatomy,” said Dr. Joan Coates, president of the neurology specialty, in an announcement about the Lifetime Specialty Achievement Award. “He is regarded by all of us in the neurology specialty of the ACVIM and the European College of Veterinary Neurology as the premier expert in neuroanatomy, clinical neurology and neuropathology.”

According to the Cornell Chronicle, Dr. de Lahunta’s contributions as a teacher spanned veterinary anatomy, neuroanatomy, applied anatomy, clinical neurology, neuropathology, and embryology. His legendary 2 a.m. clinical examinations of his patients were often attended by students, interns, and residents. He won the Norden Distinguished Teaching Award four times and was recognized as the best teacher in basic sciences in 1991 by the Student AVMA.

Family was his passion, too, according to his obituary, and he enjoyed sharing his love of the outdoors with family members. Together they cycled, ran marathons, backpacked in the mountains, skied, and played pond hockey.

Dr. de Lahunta is survived by his partner, Shirley Reed Dutton; four children; and nine grandchildren. Memorials may be made to the Rye Public Library, c/o Friends of the Rye Public Library, 581 Washington Road, Rye, NH 03870.

Read more October 15, 2021 JAVMA News obituaries

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