COLLEGE STATION — Parents who noticed early on a compassion for animals – and several mentors along the way – led Dr. Floron “Buddy” Faries from a young boy on his “Old McDonald” childhood farm to a career as veterinarian in private practice, college professor and ultimately state veterinarian for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Now, Faries plans to retire Aug. 31 after 31 years with AgriLife Extension and “watch from the outside knowing that the agency will continue to be supportive of the animal health teams as they take the program to the next level.”
In a sense, he’s been working on this day from the start — checking off the challenges and successes and bucket list of things to accomplish since his parents moved from the city of Orange to an acreage north of there in order to cultivate their young son’s interest in animals.
“When I was little, about 5-10 years of age, my parents realized I needed to be out in the country to satisfy my interest in animals,” Faries recalled. “I’ve always liked to care for animals. Anytime I found something injured, whether it was a bird or a maybe a puppy, or when I got around other animals, I’ve always just been drawn to looking at them to see if they were healthy. I’d open their mouths and check their eyes. And it got to where neighbors would ask me to check their pets.”
Faries called it a compassion for animals, rather than a love of them, and he conjures up tales of his first animals: chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, a horse and foal, a milk cow, pigs, a steer.
“My dad had a grocery store, and he could sell dressed rabbits,” Faries said. “The first thing you know, I had 80 does in our barn, so I was raising market meat rabbits.”
Though his menagerie was more of purpose than of pets, Faries talks about Blackie, his childhood companion dog, and Tippy, a German shepherd-border collie who accompanied him
in private practice. And Delia, his show pig named after a sister. And Jezebel, a “mean old goat” who also earned the status of “pet” and made him sad when she ate too many acorns and died of bloat.
But the years and his desire to become a veterinarian would eventually take him away from his own animals and on to helping those of others.
Perhaps of most influence was his high school agriculture teachers, especially Ruben Stringer, who mentored Faries toward livestock production, advised him what courses to take in high school in order to be accepted to college and introduced him to faculty at Texas A&M University during school trips for agriculture contests.
“He realized I wanted to go to Texas A&M and be a veterinarian,” Faries recalls, adding that Stringer continued to monitor his grades throughout his college years.
Faries’ lifelong dream to be a veterinarian was about to become a reality, though a second interest had developed under Stringer’s wing – a desire to teach.
“He told me early on that I had to teach at the college level, which would mean getting my doctorate in veterinary medicine and then some graduate work in some specialized area,” Faries said.
Faries was accepted into veterinary school after two years of undergraduate work, and completed his D.V.M. in 1965, working as a student technician in the College of Veterinary Medicine along the way.
He followed his mentor’s advice and earned a master’s degree in parasitology at Oklahoma State University.
Whether it was his desire to care for animals or his need for clinical practice, in 1968 Faries purchased a veterinary clinic in Jasper, near his hometown, and began treating animals. From then until 1983, Faries would be recruited twice back to teach in the College of Veterinary Medicine – in parasitology and large animal departments – and twice return to private practice.
Ultimately, Faries was operating a veterinary clinic in Madisonville when the offer came to be state veterinarian for AgriLife Extension.
“I had been out of school for 18 years with the mixture of experiences and education, and I knew I could fit the position,” he said.
Though it was a fit then, Faries credits his colleagues and his own ability to adapt through challenges as keeping him professionally “fit” for the past 31 years, working in AgriLife Extension to meet the educational needs of adults and youth in the area of animal health.
“While I was in private practice, I was completely satisfied,” he said. “I did mostly large animal practice with a limited amount of small animals. What I liked most was working everyday closely with people. They became friends. It’s a challenge every day in private practice, but it’s a reward every day as well, as you make something good happen. And there is the pressure of being very busy with a lot of work ahead of you every day.
“But I could always see that I could do something more than a private practice, so I would fall back on my earlier decision to be in education in a college setting,” he added. “I could just never give up that desire, that commitment to be in education.
“Coming into this AgriLife Extension position gave me a good mix of classroom teaching, outside teaching and some clinical settings,” he said. “And the administration of AgriLife Extension has allowed me to be creative and innovative in developing educational programming.”
Two areas among his latest and perhaps most successful programming initiatives are the veterinary science curricula, which helps young people work toward a career in the field, and biosecurity and biocontainment education for the U.S. post-911.
Faries created “Veterinary Science: Preparatory Training for the Veterinary Assistant” so kids who love both animals and science can start preparing for an animal health career as early as 8 years old.
“We didn’t have to create an interest for this; it’s already there,” said Faries, when the course became available nationwide in 2011. “And that interest has created a demand.”
Recalling the earlier experiences that had an impact on his life, Faries said the curricula intentionally includes a mentoring component so adult leaders of those using the materials can “pick up the phone or email and we’ll counsel them for their youth.”
When dealt the unexpected issue of biosecurity and biocontainment a little more than 10 years ago, Faries said, his team immediately knew that education was needed for animal owners and managers.
“There was a threat of bioterrorists using biological agents that they could bring in intentionally to cause some epidemic or even a pandemic outbreak that would not only include animal health but human health,” he said.
Funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security enabled him to develop some curricula to address bioterrorism. It was later expanded to include not only bioterrorism but accidental and natural disaster crises.
These are among the projects Faries expects will continue successfully when the new AgriLife Extension veterinary component seeks and accomplishes the next phase of its existence.
So what’s next for Faries?
“I’m now 72, and for the past seven years I’ve groomed myself for retirement. I wanted to time it so that I’m at the peak of my career,” he said. “I have to admit that I feel personally very successful, and I know that the accomplishments that are going on today as a result of my efforts won’t stop there; they will continue to the next level.”
Personally, he says, he has no plans, except to travel with his wife Donna, maybe backpack with a cousin to pan for gold in the nation’s rivers and streams, visit his 10 kids and 21 grandkids, go fishing, be more active at church, drink coffee on the porch.
“I’m satisfied, but I’ll probably pick up some hobbies I haven’t had much time for before,” he said.
Asked whether his boyhood desire to care for animals is still there, Faries admits to owning only one animal now — a cat named Jack.
“I don’t love Jack, but I do care for him. Well, I have a lot of affection for him,” Faries said. “And I’ve always liked dogs and always had a horse. I liked raising cattle, always had a milk cow. I don’t want to limit our ability to travel or be away, but yes I’ll probably get back to having a garden, a kind of Old McDonald farm like what I grew up with — not a big ranch, not a big operation. Just enough.”