DR. JOHN THOMAS VAUGHAN
Continues to Shape the Auburn CVM today
by Mike Jernigan
He is remembered by most of those who knew him as a student, faculty member and dean over the many years of his association with Auburn and the College of Veterinary Medicine, as an unchallenged master of the English language and its literature, a letter-writer extraordinaire, a mentor, a role model, a classical scholar of legendary ability and a Southern gentleman of the old school. Now, after his recent death at age 90, the power of his personality and the remarkable depth of his knowledge are what those whose lives he touched remember most vividly.
In addition to helping shape the lives and careers of so many of the students he influenced and colleagues and acquaintances he came in contact with, Dr. Vaughan also helped mold the modern Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine during his 18-year tenure as its fifth dean, 1977-1995. Those years marked a period of great transition in the veterinary profession as a whole, as well as in the way veterinary students were trained and prepared in the nation’s colleges and universities.
Across the U.S., the best veterinary colleges were steadily moving away from simply training the next generation of clinicians, to becoming centers for cutting-edge treatment and research. New attention was being focused on the One Health concept — that advances in animal, human and environmental health are inextricably linked.
Increasingly, the veterinary profession was also moving away from being a traditionally white, male-dominated arena, as the number of female and minority students enrolling in veterinary schools showed a steady and sustainable increase. The times called for a dean open-minded to change — one willing to adjust and adapt. Dean Vaughan was more than up to that challenge.
“I think one of the things Dean Vaughan should be remembered for is the strength of the faculty he hired early on in his tenure to improve Auburn’s research efforts,” recalled Dr. Tim Boosinger, who joined the college in 1983 as an assistant professor, rose through the ranks and eventually succeeded Vaughan as dean after his retirement in 1995. “He hired many new faculty members with world-class research foundations and brought the school, which was re-designated a college in 1995, in line with the new university-wide emphasis on research.”
“Dean Vaughan’s reputation and recruitment skills helped him assemble a powerful administrative leadership team in the college that advanced research and academic performance on a national scale,” agreed current Dean Calvin Johnson. “Drs. Knecht, Wolfe, Baker, Swaim, Bartels, Boosinger and many others he brought to the college were respected national leaders in academic veterinary medicine.”
“It’s fair to say he played a big role in helping lay the groundwork for Auburn University as a whole to become the R1 Research University it is today,” added Boosinger. “Later on, as dean myself, I was fortunate to build further on many of the programs he had already started.”
Not only did Vaughan bring in top researchers, he also worked diligently to provide them with the best equipment and facilities necessary to conduct their work. The college became a leader in the acquisition and use of the most advanced technology then available for diagnosis and treatment. In 1983, the Large Animal Clinic hosted the world’s first equine thermography course for veterinarians.
Even bigger milestones were ahead. The following year, Dean Vaughan and Dr. B. F. Hoerlein, professor and chair of small animal surgery and medicine, realized a long-held dream with the construction of a 42,000-square-foot facility for the new Scott-Ritchey Research Laboratory. The lab was made possible through the generosity of Kenneth A. Scott, an avid field-trial dog competitor, and Quaker State Oil heiress Eleanor Ritchey, whose dogs had been treated by Auburn-trained veterinarian Dr. Ivan Frederickson.
“A poster child for the Renaissance Man,”
a former Auburn veterinary student once called him, and few statements
sum up the late Dean Emeritus John Thomas Vaughan more
simply and eloquently than that.
Following Ritchey’s death, it was revealed she had committed her entire estate to create a much-expanded version of the early beginnings supported by the Scott Fund. The Ritchey bequest eventually provided funds to construct the new laboratory facility, as well as an endowment with sufficient income to support a full-time research faculty and technical staff. Based on the endowment, the Scott-Ritchey Research Laboratory was established in 1984 with Dr. Hoerlein as its first director.
Dr. Hoerlein’s personal research interests and that of the early faculty focused on neurological diseases of dogs and cats. But in the years since, under the leadership of subsequent directors Drs. Steve Swaim and Henry Baker and current director Dr. Doug Martin, research topics have included molecular medicine, infectious diseases, inherited diseases, nutrition, reconstructive surgery and other topics. In 1992, three years before Dean Vaughan’s retirement, the laboratory’s name was changed to the Scott-Ritchey Research Center to identify it as an interdepartmental, multi-disciplinary unit within the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Yet another research and technology milestone on Dean Vaughan’s watch occurred in 1987, when Holland M. Ware, a philanthropist and timber businessman from Georgia whose dogs had been treated for cancer at Auburn, donated funds to build and equip a state-of-the-art imaging center on campus. The Holland M. Ware Imaging Center made Auburn one of the first veterinary colleges in the nation to have an MRI, CT and linear accelerator all in one central location.
“Dean Vaughan was a key player in both the Scott-Ritchey Laboratory and the Ware Imaging Center,” noted Boosinger. “He really put things in motion to make research a faculty priority and worked hard to ensure the CVM could afford the proper equipment and facilities. He could see what was coming for the future of the college.”
“Under Dean Vaughan’s leadership, the Ware Imaging Center and Scott-Ritchey Research Center were both brought to fruition,” added Johnson, “serving as prime examples of the importance of philanthropy in the college’s sustained recognition as a preeminent national program.”
Today, the Ware Center legacy continues, as in 2019 the college became the first veterinary school in the nation equipped with the Varian Edge system, a non-invasive alternative to traditional surgery that accurately targets tumors and other abnormalities without an incision or the need for recovery in a hospital setting. Its knife-like beam can target tumors of the brain, spine, lung and other areas typically difficult to treat surgically.
Other major research initiatives launched during Dean Vaughan’s tenure included the Canine Detection Research Institute, established in 1990 and the forerunner of today’s nationally and internationally recognized Canine Performance Sciences (CPS) unit and the Veterinary Sports Medicine Program, established the following year to focus on injuries, diseases, nutrition and physiology of sporting and working dogs and horses.
But along with his contributions to the College of Veterinary Medicine’s financial well-being, facilities, technology and research reputation, Dean Vaughan will be equally remembered for his deft human touch. It sometimes seems every veterinary student or faculty member who walked the college’s halls over his many years as student, faculty member or dean, has a favorite Vaughan story.
“As a freshman pre-vet student at Auburn in 1981, I took great pride in knowing Dean Vaughan had served consecutive years as president of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and the American Association of Equine Practitioners,” recalled Johnson. “For the duration of my undergraduate program, my sole academic goal was to gain admission into his college and to follow in his footsteps. I never considered the possibility I would find myself in his office in Greene Hall 30 years later. But it is noteworthy that six of his former students have held deanships — including three currently — at U.S. colleges of veterinary medicine.”
It is also worth mentioning that Dean Vaughan navigated the college through the early stages of a period of major change in the makeup of its student body with grace and aplomb. In 1985, he was proud to award the DVM to the college’s first African- American graduate, Dr. Donita McElroy.
Not only was McElroy the first African-American to receive her veterinary degree at Auburn, she was on the early crest of a swelling wave of women veterinarians that has turned the demographics of the profession upside down in the years since.
Though the rapidity of the transition was obviously somewhat of a surprise to him, having been raised in the rough and tumble male-dominated world of a farm environment and then having practiced as a large animal veterinarian, he welcomed the change.
“It was almost inevitable that the profession became more feminine,” Dean Vaughan reflected in a 2013 interview. “I hasten to say there are a multitude of…challenging careers for women in veterinary medicine, including at least 20 specialties and twice that of subspecialties. Opportunities are limited only by the imagination and the ambition of the individual.”
Much the same can be said about Dean Vaughan’s considerable impact on helping to mold the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine into its current role as one of the nation’s top veterinary research and education programs. He was, as Boosinger noted, “the right man at the right time” to lead the college during an era of steady growth and change. During his tenure, opportunities for the college were limited only by its own imagination and ambition, and he made sure the college had both qualities in spades.
“Dean Vaughan led the college for 18 years, and during that considerable span, it grew rapidly both in faculty size and national reputation,” concluded Johnson, reflecting on the man who served as one of his greatest role models and mentors. “He always displayed a sense of reassuring confidence that Auburn belonged in a place of prominence among the nation’s best veterinary schools, and his sentiment was readily transferred to his students, faculty and alumni.”