In Memory: AVMA mourns death of Montana delegate Rex Anderson at age 65

Updated December 28, 2022

Dr. Anderson
Dr. Rex R. Anderson

Dr. Rex R. Anderson, a guiding presence in the AVMA House of Delegates for nearly two decades, died Dec. 14 at the age of 65. He was the owner and operator of a mixed animal practice in southern Montana.

“There is a gaping hole in my heart,” said AVMA President Lori Teller, who served with Dr. Anderson in the HOD. “I’ve lost a friend, and AVMA has lost a champion.”

Dr. José Arce, AVMA immediate past president, said he was devastated to hear about the death of Dr. Anderson.

“He was a true friend and a passionate leader of our profession,” Dr. Arce said of Dr. Anderson. “My heart is torn right now, and I will miss him dearly. Rex was one of my AVMA brothers.”

Born in Glenview, Illinois on Sept. 14, 1957, Dr. Anderson moved to Montana two days after his 18th birthday. After graduating from Montana State University with a degree in plant and soil science, he enrolled at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, graduating in 1985. That same year, Dr. Anderson purchased a mixed animal practice in Absarokee, Montana.

Dr. Anderson was elected as Montana’s alternate delegate to the AVMA HOD in 2004 and was soon elevated to delegate. He remained in that position until 2018, when he again became Montana’s alternate delegate. In August 2021, Dr. Anderson was elected to a yearlong term as chair of the House Advisory Committee, making him an invited participant at meetings of the AVMA Board of Directors.

Dr. Anderson was known for his humility, honesty, and passion for organized veterinary medicine. He was quoted in the winter 2022 edition of the Montana VMA newsletter as saying, “I really don’t want to emphasize anything about myself, mostly I want to encourage participation.”

Asked what guidance he would offer young veterinarians regarding involvement in the AVMA and Montana VMA, Dr. Anderson responded: “Our profession would be a mess without the unified voice we gain through organized veterinary medicine. Taking ownership in your profession’s future is reasonable, important and rewarding. Most of all it’s necessary.”

Following news of his death, many of his colleagues and friends shared their memories of Dr. Anderson and an outpouring of grief.

Dr. William Grant, California delegate and current HAC chair, said, “The AVMA is more than a professional organization, it is a group of friends, and Rex contributed so greatly to that.

“He pulled people together, encouraged folks to share ideas, and prompted us all to have open hearts and open minds. He represented the very best of what we all strive to be as volunteer leaders and, on top of that, he was a true friend to so many.”

Dr. Diana Thomé, Washington delegate, said she felt lucky to have him as a mentor and to spend time with him on the HAC. They both shared a commitment to improving HOD member engagement.

“He was a gem of a human and friend,” she said in a message to fellow delegates. “In his honor, I hope we can all lean in to getting to know our AVMA family a little better as we support each other through this time of grief. I think I'll let ‘What would Rex do?’ be a guiding principle for me at our upcoming meeting,” which will take place Jan. 5-7 in Chicago.

Dr. Janet Donlin, AVMA CEO, called Dr. Anderson a very good friend to many and respected widely throughout the veterinary community.

“Whenever we gathered, whether at meetings or informally, he always offered a gentle smile, a warm hug, and words that were truly welcoming to all. He was an incredibly positive person, and one of his frequent rallying cries was, ‘Let’s move the positive energy forward.’ All who knew him respected him for his open-mindedness and his abundant love for life.”

Dr. Rex Anderson speaks at the 2022 AVMA House of Delegates regular winter session this past January in Chicago.

Dr. Stuart E. Brown, American Association of Equine Practitioners delegate, called Dr. Anderson an incredible veterinary leader, mentor, and friend and an even better person. Dr. Brown recalled a robust and engaging discussion that Dr. Anderson led during an HOD reference committee meeting this past July that left an impression on Dr. Brown.

“I am glad I had the chance to tell him how much that occasion inspired me, and I hope that I can use that example to help others in a similar fashion in tribute to him,” Dr. Brown said. “I am sure many of us have those kinds of moments we can share about our friend and colleague.”

Former AVMA President Douglas Kratt recalled of Dr. Anderson, “When looking at a challenge in an open-minded way, Rex would consider all presented possibilities and views.

“We would spend long hours talking about student debt, mental health, and workforce shortages; how to make good coffee; the proper way to grill; and fixing airplanes, among many other varied other things.”

Dr. Kratt added: “I will miss his smile, his welcoming demeanor, and the laughter he brought with him. I was better for knowing him, and thankfully the AVMA made that happen.”

Dr. Anderson enjoyed baking bread, listening to the blues, vintage motorcycles, bicycling, music, horseback riding, aviation, barbecuing, golf, and kayaking. In his spare time, he sold and serviced gas stoves and fireplaces.

The upcoming AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference will dedicate in his honor its closing event on Jan. 7, now titled the “Dr. Rex Anderson Beat the Winter Blues Party.”

He is survived by a sister. Donations can be made to the Rex Anderson Memorial Fund at any First Interstate Bank.

A version of this article appears in the February 2023 print issue of JAVMA.