Dee Family Legacy

Dee Family’s Commitment to Profession Continues

If it’s true that it takes a village to raise a child, there also must be some merit that, for veterinarians, it takes those who’ve walked the path before to support future veterinarians.

For the Dee family of veterinarians, honoring their profession and special Auburn veterinary legacy is part of who they are and why they feel committed to give to those who will carry the torch.

Recently, Larry Dee ’69, DVM, and his wife, R ita, provided a gift to establish the Dee Family Endowed Chair to support superior faculty in small animal surgery.

From left, Dr. Jon Dee, Dr. Larry Dee, and Dr. James Dee

This newly established chair will allow the College of Veterinary Medicine to secure a proven veterinary professional to teach students and expand the service’s ability

“A commitment to service—to be of benefit—to the profession, is something Dr. Larry Dee, his brothers and the entire Dee family have lived throughout their careers,” Dean Calvin Johnson said. “We are grateful to the Dee family for their lifetime of generosity to the college and for their most recent gift to establish this prestigious endowed chair in surgery.”

The Dee family is legendary in Southeastern veterinary medicine. Dee’s father and uncle, C. E. Dee and I. C. Frederickson, respectively, both veterinarians, established Hollywood (Florida) Animal Hospital in 1947 as a small family-run hospital. Since 1950, the hospital has been a Certified Member Hospital of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).

Frederickson, whose son Tucker Frederickson was a two-way player for the Auburn Tigers—an All-American in 1964 and runner-up in the Heisman Trophy race—played a pivotal role in the funding of the college’s Scott-Ritchey Research Center.

Frederickson was aware of the work of B.F. “Frank” Hoerlein, DVM, professor and chairman of Small Animal Surgery and Medicine, who was committed to research for the advancement of companion animal health but lacked the financial support and facilities. He told long-time client, Eleanor Ritchey, the grand-daughter of Philip John Bayer, the founder of the Quaker State Refining Company and an animal lover who owned more than 100 dogs, about Auburn’s work.

Upon Ritchey’s death in 1968, the care for her animals and the bulk of her estate—valued at more than $10 million—came to Auburn and helped establish the Scott-Ritchey Research Institute. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Ritchey’s gift to Auburn veterinary medicine.

The family practice went through changes but, for many years, was operated by the Auburn-trained Dee brothers—Jon ’66, Larry ’69 and James Dee ’72—along with James Herrington, DVM, and Tommy Sessa, DVM. Today, that practice has more than 26 primary care and specialty veterinarians, including Jon Dee, who remains active in the practice.

Only two of the five Dee siblings didn’t go into veterinary medicine: David is an environmental law attorney; and Barbara, the only sister, is a retired human intensive care nurse.

While Larry Dee has retired from active practice, he remains committed to the profession through leadership in several elite national veterinary organizations—American Veterinary Medical Association, Florida Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, World Small Animal Veterinary Association, and the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners.

During a recent interview, he spoke about the family’s commitment to giving back to the profession he holds dear and to future graduates.

“My father was the ultimate role model, serving as veter-inary consultant to the Surgeon General’s office with the rank of Brigadier General; as state veterinarian for the Florida Racing Commission; as gubernatorial appointee to Florida’s State Board on Veterinary Medicine for 24 years; and as president of that group for many years,” Dee said.

The family was fortunate, somewhat at their father’s hand, that while veterinary medicine was the chosen profession, they didn’t overlap in specialty areas. “He was insistent that we not return to work for him and that we find our own veterinary medical specialty,” Dee said.

From left, Rita and Larry Dee and Dean Calvin Johnson

Each of the veterinary brothers focused on different opportunities within the profession: Larry in internal medicine, surgery and organized veterinary medicine; Jon as a boarded surgeon, researcher, author and lecturer; and James on practice management.

“Our veterinary opportunities have allowed us to go across the country and around the globe,” Larry Dee said of him and his brothers. “It would have been exceedingly difficult without the efforts of our boarded partners and associates.”

In choosing to support the College of Veterinary Medicine, the Dees wanted to establish an endowed faculty position to help students. They recognize that with today’s competitive private practice industry, teaching veterinary medicine may not be as attractive as it once was.

“The person must substitute the loss of income from private industry with a love for teaching and being part of a university. Having the professorship will ensure that all veterinary students receive benefit from that professor’s knowledge,” said Dee.

Reflecting on his career in veterinary medicine, Dee said his father and another mentor, Bill Jackson, DVM, epitomized service and giving back. “Dad was on the state board for 25 years and was president of the state association, and Bill was president of almost everything—AVMA, World Small Animal Veterinary Association.

“Basically, they showed us the habit of serving and giving back, and if you do it long enough, you get into a habit of doing it, and after a while you realize that you might be half good at it.”

While that is Dee’s modest answer as to why he supports the profession, it takes only a few minutes of conversation to realize the family’s lifelong passion and dedication.

“You hope you’ve made a difference, but sometimes it is the wisdom of not doing something that makes a greater impact in the profession,” Dee said. “We look at our mission statement first and ensure that it benefits the profession before acting.”

In veterinary medical practice, Dee is steadfast in his service to the welfare of the patient, no matter the cost. “Whether the client has the money is not the most important thing; the welfare of the patient is more important than the money. How you treat the patient is important, and how you treat the client is just as important.”

His best advice for current and future veterinarians: “Have a love for animal health care and education. Study hard, work hard and show you care. Showing a client you care about the patient will go a long way.”

Reminiscing about his time at Auburn is remembering family. “When I got to Auburn, my older brother, Jon, was a senior and he lived in a shack. Rent was $10 a month. We took old oat sacks, stapled them to the studs. When it got cold, we could feel the cold through the walls.

“My freshman year, it got really cold and we had ice in the shower, and frozen pipes lifted the toilet off the floor.

“Jon was a senior at vet school, I was a freshman in vet school, and James was a freshman, signed up for pre-vet,” Dee said. “We had no presumptions of great wealth. You used what you had.

“I’d already been to college for five years, four years at Duke, and pre-vet in Florida, so I felt like I’d already spent more than I thought my father should pay.

“We ended up renting a farmhouse from Dr. [Kenneth “Max”] Autry [the first chair of the Department of Dairy Sciences in Auburn’s College of Agriculture], where we had to feed the horses. Auburn gave a lot to us.”

When asked to talk about favorite Auburn faculty, he mentioned the legendary equine veterinarian and fifth dean of the college, J.T. Vaughan, DVM.

“Tom Vaughan is one of my heroes. He has a loquacious style that we all love. He taught while I was at Auburn and then went on to Cornell before returning to Auburn.”

“I can remember one my classmates was with Dr. Vaughan and he was saying ‘do this and do this and do this.’ My classmate didn’t have any paper. At that time, the uniform was blue pants and a shirt and white coat. He started writing instructions on his pants leg. Tom was unique.”

Like many who read Auburn Veterinarian, Dee is quick to start reading the magazine from the back, to start with Vaughan’s column, Apocrypha. “It’s important for veterinarians to know where we came from, and no one has a better understanding of that than Tom.”