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The legacy of Dr. James L. Voss at CSU: the very best teaching, the very best care

July 13, 2013
By Coleman Cornelius

James L. Voss, a giant in the life of Colorado State University and namesake of CSU's world-renowned Veterinary Teaching Hospital - a man known for his whip-smart intelligence, country humor, core decency and far-reaching administrative vision - died on Friday at a Fort Collins nursing facility following a long illness. He was 79.

Board of Agriculture President Carl Breeze, CSU President A.R. Chamberlain and James L. Voss break ground on the new CSU Veterinary Hospital on March 8, 1977.

Dean for 15 years

Voss, a three-time CSU alumnus from a family farm near Grand Junction, Colo., built his career at CSU from 1958 until his retirement in 2001, first as an equine ambulatory clinician, then as a leading veterinarian in equine reproduction, and finally as a university administrator. He was dean of the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences for 15 years.

James L. Voss was the dean of CSU's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences for 15 years.In his administrative roles, Voss realized his fervent goal of building a leading-edge Veterinary Teaching Hospital as the centerpiece of CSU’s South Campus, and he mentored an astonishing number of prominent CSU alumni, faculty and staff, including University Distinguished Professors and President Tony Frank.

“CSU’s world is a little dimmer today for the passing of Dr. Jim Voss,” Frank said Friday, recalling that Voss had hired him as an assistant professor, a department chair, and an associate dean. “It is no exaggeration to state that CSU’s veterinary medical program is a world leader in no small part because of Jim Voss. CSU lost a great leader and a great alum, and I lost a great friend.”

A CSU icon

Voss is a CSU icon, both as namesake of the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital – and for famously breaking ground on the contemporary hospital when it moved from CSU’s main campus to its location off Drake Road in Fort Collins. In a well-known CSU photograph from 1977, Voss – tall, lanky and besuited – drives a team of Belgian draft horses as they pull a Fresno Scraper through a field of corn stalks.The dedication of the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, September 14, 2001.

Today, that field is home to a vet hospital that handles nearly 40,000 patient visits annually, from small and exotic animals to livestock and horses. In delivering that care, the hospital has developed among the most advanced techniques and technologies in specialties including cardiology, internal medicine, neurology, oncology and orthopedics. A hallmark: Many of these advances lead to new approaches in human medicine.

Coinciding with this leap forward in care at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, the university’s Professional Veterinary Medical Program has risen in prominence. The program graduates about 140 veterinarians each year, and for the past two decades has been ranked among the top three veterinary teaching programs in the nation. Another part of the Voss Vision.

Impressive legacy

This impressive legacy is not lost on Dr. Timothy Hackett, interim director of the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Voss was incoming dean when Hackett began his first year as a veterinary student at CSU, and Voss later hired Hackett.

“He really positioned us to move into the 21st century with the very best care and the very best teaching. That’s his legacy,” said Hackett, adding that he is reminded each day of this legacy as he passes under Voss’ name above the hospital entrance, passes by his likeness on a bronze plaque in the hospital lobby, and even sends emails with a signature that includes the “James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital.”

“I’m reminded daily of what I’m working on and what we’re looking to accomplish,” Hackett said. “It was certainly his leadership that positioned us to be one of the top veterinary schools in the country.”

Trademarks for CVMBS

Voss also established research focus areas that are trademarks for the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and, indeed, for CSU. The Professional Veterinary Medical Program. Animal reproduction and biotechnology. Cancer biology. Environmental health sciences. Infectious diseases. Neurobiology. These and other notable programs now form an enviable college research enterprise with annual expenditures totaling nearly $55 million for both basic and applied research.

“As someone who is trying to follow in his large footsteps, I truly appreciate all he did for our college, our university and our profession,” said Dr. Mark Stetter, current college dean.

Down-home humor

Even while building progressive programs, and lobbying for leading-edge teaching and research facilities, Voss was known for his down-home humor. He looked askance at the looming modern sculpture, “Ode to a Holstein Cow,” on the grounds of the former CSU dairy. A faculty member begging for money might meet the quip, “People in hell want ice water.”

For years, Voss and his close friend, Bernard Rollin, a renowned animal ethicist and University Distinguished Professor, shared an inside joke about their meeting in 1969. Rollin had asked Voss to castrate a donkey. When Voss arrived at Rollin’s place for the task, the Western veterinarian informed the Brooklyn-born philosopher that the donkey was female.

Later, Voss hired Rollin to teach ethics to veterinary students, an early step in the sea change Voss would lead in attention to animal welfare in veterinary teaching, research and practice.

'He was brilliant'

“I would never have had the success I’ve had without him,” Rollin said fondly. “He was the best man I’ve ever known, and the best administrator. He was brilliant, morally committed, thoroughly decent and honorable – everything good.”

Friends and colleagues also remember Voss for his habit of crediting others. “The best victories are the ones no one knows you have,” he would advise.

Even upon retirement, Voss looked ahead. He noted the importance of continually updating teaching and research facilities, and the critical need to identify and address emerging diseases in humans and animals.

Responding to a question about the future of veterinary education, he said: “The challenge is to keep up with training for the future, versus training the way we always have.”

Voss is survived by his wife, Kay, of Fort Collins; sons, Ed and Bill; and daughter, Laura.

A memorial service for Dr. Jim Voss is set for 11 a.m. Tuesday, July 16, at the Hilton Fort Collins, 425 W. Prospect Road. In lieu of flowers, the Voss family requests donations to the Colorado State University Equine Reproduction Laboratory. Donate online, or send a check payable to the CSU Foundation, with Voss Memorial in the subject line, to CVMBS Dean’s Office, 1601 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1601, Attn: Voss Memorial.

By the numbers

CSU’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital has seen phenomenal growth since its doors opened under Voss’ guidance in 1979.

  • About 35,000 patient visits annually
  • Almost 400 faculty, staff members, student employees and volunteers
  • More than 20 veterinary interns and residents each year
  • About 300 junior and senior veterinary students train at the hospital annually
  • Ongoing clinical trials and other research activities that advance leading-edge techniques and technologies for animal and human medicine