A Life Remembered | Vet-med leader recalled for impact, kindness

 

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SAN ANTONIO — The week before Gary Stamp passed away, his longtime friend and colleague in veterinary medicine, Ira Zaslow, came to visit him.

"When he opened his eyes and saw me, he blinked, and a tear came from his eye," Zaslow recalled of his friend of more than 50 years, who then summoned the nurse with his call button and wrote on a small blackboard he was using to communicate. He gave the nurse a thumbs-up when she came in and read what he had written:

"My brother of 50 years from Boston."

"I'll never forget that as long as I live," said Zaslow, who considered Mr. Stamp a brother as well and spent four days visiting with his friend in the final days of his battle with cancer. "We had that kind of friendship. ... I adored him, and I think he felt the same way."

Mr. Stamp, who lived in San Antonio, will be celebrated in a rosary and vigil ceremony at 7 p.m. Thursday at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in San Antonio. A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. June 14, and burial with military honors will follow at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.

A 1962 graduate of Monticello High School where he's in the Hall of Fame, Mr. Stamp was a good student and athlete who went on to Southern Illinois University for his bachelor's in physiology and came back to the C-U area for veterinary school, graduating in 1970 with his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.

He and Zaslow, a Boston native who attended veterinary school in Ontario, met in 1969 through their respective student chapters of the American Veterinary Medical Association and embarked on a 50-year personal and professional friendship that led to changes in their field as well.

The big city Jewish kid from the East Coast hit it off immediately with the small-town Midwestern boy, said Zaslow, adding that their respective families also became close. And the two vet school students wasted no time promoting change within their profession.

Zaslow recalled how the two of them, with support of a few of their fellow vet school students, wrote an affirmative action proclamation that called for more minorities to be accepted into veterinary schools. They sent it to all the schools that existed in 1969, and then the two of them visited minority neighborhoods in Chicago and Boston to talk to students about becoming veterinarians.

"A born public servant, who had such great values of family and friends ingrained in him," Zaslow said of Mr. Stamp, whom he also described as charismatic and a leader. "He always brought the best out in me. He was just so low-key, whenever you spoke, he listened."

Zaslow added that Mr. Stamp made everybody feel special.

"And in his way, everybody was special," Zaslow said, echoing comments of many friends and colleagues about the UI veterinary school alumnus known internationally in his profession.

"He's known all over the world. He's done so much. He made such an impact on so many people," Zaslow said.

After graduating from the UI, Mr. Stamp joined the Air Force, launching a 28-year military career as a veterinarian.

His assignments included the Department of Defense's military working-dog veterinary service at Lackland Air Force Base and a stint at Ramstein Air Base in Germany in 1978, where he was the clinical specialist referral veterinarian for Europe.

He transferred to the Army Veterinary Corps in 1983, and directed the medical care for all military dogs in the Department of Defense. By 1990, he was promoted to the rank of colonel, and in 1992, coordinated animal care programs in Hurricane Andrew's aftermath, receiving the Humanitarian Service medal for his work. In 1994, he received the Army Surgeon General's Award for Excellence in Clinical Medicine, and from 1996 until his retirement in 1999, he served as commander of the U.S. Army Veterinary Command.

It wasn't just his military veterinary career for which he was known worldwide, but also the work he did to improve and expand the specialty area of veterinary emergency and critical care.

"Dr. Stamp was an outstanding leader in multiple veterinary fields, and a longtime friend of the college," said UI College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Peter Constable. "He will be deeply missed here at Illinois and, truly, around the world."

In addition to being a charter diplomate and first president of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, he served as executive director of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society and helped to found the International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Symposium.

Zaslow, who was right there with Mr. Stamp in building the emergency and critical care society, the annual symposium and American College of VECC, which educates veterinarians in the specialty area, said his friend did his state, hometown and university right.

"There's nowhere you can go in the world and talk about his field and not mention him," he said.

Maureen McMichael, professor of emergency critical care at the UI College of Veterinary Medicine, had known Mr. Stamp since 2001, when she was certified through the society he helped found.

"He has brought quality emergency education to millions of veterinary professionals. There's no question he is responsible for raising the standards of emergency care in the world," she said, adding that now there's even a European society, which he also helped get started.

After her certification, McMichael became involved in the organization, which brought her in more regular contact with Mr. Stamp, especially leading up to the annual symposium. She had to get there a week in advance, and Mr. Stamp was always already there.

"Organizing everything," she said. "He was down in the dirt, ripping open boxes, he was the go-to person, and he was so kind and caring and just a true service mentality, one of the most wonderful people I have met in my life. Just kind. You couldn't not be happy when you saw his face, always a smile, always happy to help."

Pamela Wilkins, professor at the UI College of Veterinary Medicine and a horse doctor, also met Mr. Stamp in 1997 through the professional organization. Upon meeting her, he encouraged her to help grow the large animal part of the organization.

"He was a driving force and not in an aggressive way. He led you to the sacred water," she said. "He was the most welcoming man and the kindest man that I've really ever known."

Wilkins, a single mother with a young daughter at that time, said Mr. Stamp and his wife, Mary, and family were even supportive of her, volunteering to watch her daughter during the symposium so she could attend all the events.

"They were kind like that to everybody that they took under their wing," she said.

Wilkins said Mr. Stamp would come back to the UI, where he enjoyed going to Illini sporting events. In 2006, he received the UI vet school's alumni award.

"He set such a beautiful example of how to carry yourself, how to interact with people, how to mediate a dispute, how to stay calm when no one else is and hear what someone else is saying," Wilkins said. "And I'm going to miss him a lot."

Upon announcing his passing, VECCS released a statement saying that he was known to so many for the 30 years he served as the executive director as a beloved servant leader, visionary leader, consensus builder, and a friend and mentor to many throughout the field.

"Dr. Stamp was a true advocate for our profession and brought an unwavering support of the advancement of emergency and critical care medicine. ... Dr. Gary Stamp was known for his warmth and kindness, making everyone feel instantly a part of the family that is VECCS," the statement said.

P.J. Andrus, current CEO of VECCS, said there's no doubt Mr. Stamp has built a legacy and organization that will live on for years to come. He said the organizations he and the small group of others began has grown geographically across the United States and internationally with memberships including thousands of professionals.

"What a kind, warm-hearted person Gary was with every person he encountered, every member, colleague, friend, family member. He just made them feel welcome, and that's why he was so successful in building this community. He was just a true gentleman, and I really enjoyed getting to know him. He's one of those people, you could immediately see why he made such an impact on the field."

McMichael said he was relentless in his mission to bring high-quality emergency education to millions of veterinary professionals.

"He was not just a colleague but also a dear friend, and he will be greatly missed."