You may have heard of the recent passing of Dr. Saul T. Wilson on February 1st after a brief illness. Many of you will know Dr. Wilson as a visionary leader in the control and eradication of animal diseases. He was a man who dedicated his career to public veterinary medicine, first here at APHIS and then at Tuskegee University.
Dr. Wilson was a member of the first pre-veterinary medicine class at Tuskegee University and in the second class of Tuskegee veterinary school graduates when he received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1950. Following graduation, Dr. Wilson began his career with USDA’s Bureau of Animal Industries (which later became part of APHIS) as a field veterinarian and one of the country’s early African-American public veterinarians. He worked on the Mexico-U.S. Foot-and-Mouth Disease Eradication Commission. It was his leadership, expertise, and dedication, along with the empathy he showed Mexican livestock producers, that helped eradicate this dreaded disease when no one thought it could be done and kept it from re-infecting the United States.
Dr. Wilson served in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps from 1952 to 1954, working to protect the food supply of U.S. troops. He received his Master’s in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1955. He then returned to APHIS Veterinary Services (VS), where he was pivotal in the eradication of many livestock diseases including hog cholera and exotic Newcastle disease. Dr. Wilson had many roles in APHIS – from diagnostician to epidemiologist and Director to Assistant Administrator. Throughout his Federal career, Dr. Wilson made outstanding contributions to the health of U.S. livestock and poultry populations. In 1986, he received the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executive Service and USDA’s Distinguished Service and Superior Service Awards.
Dr. Wilson’s impact went beyond animal health. Following the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four little girls, Dr. Wilson began to take a more active role in the Civil Rights movement. At the time, he worked for VS in Ohio. When he and others learned there wasn’t a local Coshocton, Ohio, chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), they formed one.
After he retired from APHIS in 1989, Dr. Wilson returned to his alma mater and served as a professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Tropical Animal Health. Even after retiring from Tuskegee, he continued as a consultant to the veterinary program there and inspired many veterinary students to go on to practice public veterinary medicine.
In 1991, to honor Dr. Wilson’s many accomplishments, VS established The Saul T. Wilson, Jr. Internship Program. This mentorship and career development program provides financial support and paid summer employment to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing biomedical science and veterinary medical careers. Like Dr. Wilson, Saul T. Wilson, Jr. Scholars bring a wealth of skills and expertise to VS’ mission of protecting animal health. Since the start of the program, 65 scholars have completed it and 26 graduates currently work here at APHIS. Right now, 35 scholars are participating in the internship program at colleges across the country.
Dr. Wilson was a pioneer and visionary in public veterinary medicine who made long-lasting and significant contributions to the field, as well as to APHIS, our stakeholders, and our country. He continues to inspire veterinary students to practice public veterinary medicine, and his work will live on. We offer our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.