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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kentucky's Consummate Veterinarian

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted December 20, 2010.

This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013).

As a young man growing up in Kentucky in the 1930s, Delano L. Proctor wanted to be an army officer and a pilot. The Navy rejected him because he was color blind, however, so he followed his father into the veterinary profession. He became a legendary Lexington equine veterinarian, serving some of the best stables in the world’s equine capital.

D.L., as he was affectionately known to his colleagues, joined the service following his graduation from Cornell in 1942. The Army wisely took advantage of his expertise with horses and assigned him to Fort Reno, Oklahoma, the country’s largest remount station, with 5,000 mules and 10,000 horses. He traveled from there to Calcutta, then to India’s embarkation point for the rugged China-Burma-India campaign. His responsibilities were to break, condition, and assure the health of horses and mules used behind enemy lines in the severe jungle and mountain terrain.
Dr. Proctor with a massive bull elephant that he and two colleagues killed.
The state's wildlife warden had ordered it destroyed after a week-long rampage
that had left 35 residents of their village crushed and killed by the rogue beast.

Following his discharge at the rank of Captain in 1946, D.L. returned to Lexington and took over his father’s equine practice. For over 40 years, Dr. Proctor was veterinarian for some of the finest equine stables in Kentucky. The quality of his surgical knowledge and abilities was affirmed when he was admitted, by examination, as one of the early diplomates of the prestigious American College of Veterinary Surgeons. He also served as the 107th president of the AVMA in 1985-86.

Dr. Proctor had a deep respect for his alma mater, “Cornell did great things for me and, above all, there’s the prestige that you get from being associated with it.” While serving as dean, I had the privilege of sharing several lively and insightful conversations with him. Despite debilitating arthritis in his later years, he hired a private airplane so that he could join his remaining classmates for their 65th reunion in 2007.  A modest man who spoke sparingly of his own war experiences, he preferred to acclaim the horses and mules that helped turn the tide in the rugged Burma conflict.

In December 2007, I drove through the snow-covered roads of West Virginia to interview Dr. Proctor for the Enduring Legacy project. He spoke of the greatness of the veterinary profession, and his fondness for Cornell. In his later years, D.L. had become an impressive student of veterinary history, writing insightful (but sadly, unpublished) essays on comparative medicine and early veterinary scholars. When I asked him why he had become so interested in history, he said simply, “Well, it just seems to me like you ought to know where you’re coming from.

D.L. knew better than most where he came from, and also where the profession is going. When he departed this life in 2009, he left a legacy as the complete, the consummate equine veterinarian.

A Biography and interview (audio and transcript) of Dr. Proctor is available on the Enduring Veterinary Legacy series.