The owl and the bull
Veterinary educator calls it a career after 24 years
Dr. Jim Ross greets a new visitor as if they’re old friends, smiling broadly and bringing his face close as he offers a warm handshake. This is his first day back from vacation, which is obvious from the stacks of mail that have piled up.
Looking around at an office filled to capacity, one sees the monumental task of sorting through and packing up material evidence of a 24-year stint at Tufts. Ross was not simply the first chair of the Department of Medicine at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. He was key in helping to build the institution.
“Jim is one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the school,” notes Dr. John Berg, who chairs the Department of Clinical Sciences. “He and [professor emeritus] Tony Schwartz, the first chairman of the Department of Surgery, were largely responsible for building the clinical side of the school and developed programs still in place today.”
Earlier in his career, Ross worked in laboratory animal medicine with human artificial heart pioneers Michael De Bakey and Denton Cooley at Baylor University and then at the Medical College of Ohio. He came to Tufts in 1981, wanting to be “in a veterinary school teaching veterinary students, not in a medical college teaching medical students.” It was a daring venture—and not just because the veterinary school was in its infancy. No other privately financed veterinary school had ever succeeded, though many had tried. It was precisely this entrepreneurial spirit that attracted him.
The night owl
Dr. John Rush, associate chair of clinical sciences, whom Ross brought aboard in 1989, credits Ross with “working long hours with a remarkably small faculty to put together a curriculum on a shoestring budget.” Because Ross is a night owl, that meant everyone worked well into the night—including Dr. Susan Cotter, professor of clinical sciences, and Dr. Linda Ross, associate professor of clinical sciences, who recall being swept up by Ross’ enthusiasm as they planned curriculum over drinks and dinner in area restaurants.
Rush still remembers Ross taking him out to dinner the night before his full day of interviews at the school. They stayed out until the wee hours—only to find their car locked inside the parking garage.
Life with a bull
Ross’s colleagues might consider the bull to be a perfect first best friend for someone who spent so much of his incumbency pushing—whether ideas or people. Always it was for a good cause, as he kept advocating an agenda that was best for the school, the students and the profession.
He was also known for provoking debate to elicit new perspectives and make people re-think decisions. He often pushed back simply to test the strength of colleagues’ convictions, not because he disagreed. And his trademark phrase, “Well, that depends,” often pushed people to go beyond simple answers.
Ross is also credited with significant pushes in the field of veterinary medicine. He was instrumental in the establishment of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care and the cardiology specialty group within the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
In retirement, Ross plans to work half-time, indulging his joy in starting new things, as he helps to launch a specialty veterinary hospital in Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod. As president of the Massachusetts Veterinary Association, he’ll also stay active in the profession. And he expects to stay involved “peripherally” with the Cummings School.
In his absence, colleagues say it is his teaching excellence that the school will miss most. Every single Tufts veterinary student over the past 24 years has learned cardiovascular physical exam skills as only Ross can teach them. Others cite the gap of not having Ross to ask the hard questions, as well as losing some of the institutional memory—knowing the history of what worked, what didn’t and why. Says Anwer, “Some of us have asked, ‘Who’s going to keep us on track? Who will go down the basic checklist about what’s right for the school, the students and the profession before coming to a decision?’ ”
If they were to pose those questions to Ross, he’d most likely answer, “Well, that depends.”