Dick Talbot -- A Personal Remembrance
Richard B. Talbot, DVM, PhD
Written by Dr. Lester M. Crawford, DVM, PhD, Executive Director of the AAVMC, colleague and friend.
The career highlights are straightforward enough--Dean of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine (1968-76); Founding Dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (1974-84); and Editor, Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 1980-94. But, it's the veterinarian and the man that looms so much larger than the curriculum vitae that will be remembered.
I first saw Dick Talbot when I interviewed for a graduate fellowship at the University of Georgia in 1966. He had been Head of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology for only one year, but he and his side-kick Fred Davison, who was to become President of the University, were both well known and clearly destined for greatness. I met both of them on that fateful day, and like a generation of American veterinarians, was never quite the same again.
When Dr. Talbot became Dean two years later, I joined him as his Assistant Dean. I thought he was crazy but he had five things he wanted to accomplish at Georgia: 1) full accreditation; 2) a threefold increase in faculty and budget; 3) a doubling of the square footage of the veterinary school; 4) complete curriculum reform; and 5) the largest number of papers presented at the Conference on Research Workers in Animal Diseases. Characteristically, he wanted all this in three years. It took six.
And then he left. Having developed a passion for expanding the entering spaces for veterinary students and realizing that this could only be accomplished by building new schools, he marched into what can only be described as an inhospitable clime for accomplishing the same. That it took 4 years to break ground at Virginia Tech nearly did him in.
But he assuaged his discomfiture by encouraging the formation of other schools. In fact, he spent a great deal of time in Boston designing the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine. He asked me up there one wintry weekend in 1978 for what I thought was a ceremonial meeting of the Veterinary School Advisory Committee. When I got off the plane he said, "Look, they've got all these `world class' types on the Committee but none of them know anything about curriculum, admissions, or staffing. We need you to design New England specific programs for all three. We've got you a suite at the . . . . Howard Johnson's." He wanted it in 1 day, it took 3, and then we were snowed in for 3 more.
Then, when we were putting together an international veterinary drug program at FDA in the early 1980s, I mentioned in a speech that the linchpin of the program would be a world compendium of veterinary drugs. Dick Talbot was a majority of one that believed it could be done. And he put together a most impressive publication in a record amount of time that has in its own way made the world a better place.
True to his word, Dick stepped down as Dean at Virginia-Maryland after 10 years. The ensuing 10 years were spent doing an incredibly excellent job of editing the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, making original and lasting contributions to the burgeoning field of veterinary informatics and consulting on some of the most sophisticated and esoteric aspects of veterinary medicine. He also spent three extremely productive years at FDA's Center of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), two of which were spent managing the drug approval process.
Most of all though, he spent time with the truly enduring loves of his life -- Jane, Lee and Andrea. And, surely no man took more delight in his grandchildren.
Once, when I was Director of CVM, a tough decision came my way. We were about to approve what was to become the highest selling veterinary drug of all time. The manufacturer wanted the product sold over-the-counter; CVM had recommended prescription status. I suggested to the Acting Commissioner of FDA that I needed external consultation before making the final decision. He advised the selection of a couple of 'wise men' who were well-versed in the relevant science, incorruptible and not lacking in intestinal fortitude. I called Dick Talbot first. He did not disappoint.
It all came to an end -- suddenly and inexplicably -- in a plane crash in Pennsylvania on September 8, 1994. We shall all miss his exuberance, his wise counsel, and, most of all, his company. Dick had a passion for the veterinary profession that I have never before seen the like of, and he had a devotion to family and friends that was as unquestioning as it was unshakable. To all the assignments in life that he accepted he brought preparation, commitment and verve. He was mentor to an ever-enlarging circle of devotees. In the end we are all sadly diminished by his loss. At this point it is sometimes fashionable to say, "we shall never see his like again." But Dick would not have allowed that; he would have said, "oh, yes, you will." I surely hope he was right in that respect. We could use a legion of them about now.