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Saturday, March 24, 2012

AVMA Presidents: Dr. Jack O. Walther 2003-04

Posted March 24, 2012
by Donald F. Smith, Cornell University

This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013). 
See Dr. Walther's complete biography and interview with audio at,%20Jack%20).%201963%20UC%20Davis,%20BioInt.pdf

Dr. Walther grew up on a ranch in Nevada and graduated from the University of California, Davis in 1963. He established an equine practice in Reno but like many other veterinary graduates of the early 1960s, he was drafted during the Vietnam War and spent two years in the Army Veterinary Corps. Returning to Nevada after his discharge, Jack entered the companion animal field and over the next 35 years established three small animal hospitals in the Reno area.

Dr. Walther was heavily involved in activities of the Nevada Veterinary Medical Association starting in the 1970s and in 1992 was selected as Nevada’s delegate to the AVMA. From there, he  was elected to the AVMA's executive board representing his region of the country. 

During a trip to Cornell University in September 2001 while AVMA vice president, he received an unanticipated call from a colleague encouraging him to run for the position of president-elect. Though no previous vice president had used that position as a springboard to the presidency for almost 100 years, Dr. Walther entered the race and in July 2003 was installed as the AVMA's 140th president.

Dr. Walther was president in a year in which serious diseases of food-producing animals, notably, highly pathogenic avian influenza and bovine spongiform encephalopathy emerged as threats to the nation’s food animals and international trade.

Dr. Walther testifying before Congress in 2004, encouraging 
improved surveillance for Chronic Wasting Disease that
threatened deer and elk populations.
AVMA photo provided by Dr. Walther

In what he considers one of his most important initiatives, Dr. Walther energized and expanded the public relations programs of the AVMA, transforming that department in ways that were long overdue. He also fundamentally improved the way in which legislative issues in various states were monitored by the AVMA so that relevant and timely information could be shared among veterinary associations in other states. Dr. Walther also facilitated the establishment of a privately-managed testing service for veterinary graduates of foreign and non-accredited colleges that helped reduce a two-to-three year backlog of new veterinarians awaiting examination for licensure to practice. 

Throughout his professional career, Dr. Walther has been involved in community activities. Dr. Walther promoted major expansion of passenger and commercial air service in the Reno/Sparks area while a leader of the Washoe County Airport Authority. He was also chair of the board of the National Championship Air Races in the 1990s. An avid cowboy himself, Dr. Walther served as chairman of the small and financially-fragile Reno Rodeo and saw it become one of the top rodeos in North America. 

Dr. Walther plays his role as working cowboy
on his ranch in Lamoille, NV in 2010.
Photo provided by Dr. Walther.

Dr. Walther continues to be an active leader in veterinary medicine, serving on several veterinary boards, in particular the Western Veterinary Conference. His various roles with the conference were so distinguished that the program for the 2013 annual meeting will be named in his honor (only the sixth time this has occurred in the past three decades).

Dr. Smith invites comments at