Remembering Gary Haldorson

Gary Haldorson.

Many of Dr. Gary Haldorson’s students will tell you, it was his commitment to understand them as individuals that was unrivaled. That devotion — coupled with an ability to make learning fun — was why his students loved him.

“He treated us like colleagues and genuinely invested in each of us. We weren’t just a number to him, we were an individual with a story and experiences and something valuable to bring to the table,” said Tovah Yenna, a student of Haldorson. “He knew everyone by name, and didn’t just know our names, he knew our pet’s names, our significant other’s names. He was special.”

Haldorson (‘90 DVM, ‘05 PhD), a beloved professor, teacher, pathologist, mentor, and colleague who taught pathology to innumerable veterinary students for nearly 25 years at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, passed away suddenly Tuesday, March 19, 2024. He was 60 years old.

Training students for a profession where one mistake could be life or death, Haldorson brought an unparalleled joy to his students and colleagues.

“There are so many professors at our school, but he was like the heart,” Yenna said. “He was the one making students smile, and he brought a personal touch to it.”

At the beginning of a systemic pathology course he taught to second-year veterinary students, it became a Haldorson tradition to ask students to submit photos from their life, just for him to pull it up during a later lecture and discuss the image. The experience was just one way he built lasting connections with his students.

“There was one student who sent a picture of railroad tracks down at the Snake (River). He brought that up in one of the first lectures and joked with her about there being nobody in it. Everybody thought it was really funny, and then from then on through the end of the semester, every time we had a break, he’d just put that picture up and everyone would laugh,” said Jace Enwards, Haldorson’s student.

Honoring a decades-old open-door pledge, a line often stretched outside Haldorson’s fourth-floor ADBF office. While students brought questions related to coursework, conversations seemed to always divulge into life and its trials and tribulations.

“We talked a lot about how challenging vet school is, how much burnout there is, my struggles in other classes,” said Claire Lambeth, a student who grew close with Haldorson and considered him a close mentor. “He was kind and empathic, but also was able to joke and that was really meaningful for me because sometimes I think veterinary school can just get wrapped up in seriousness all the time.”

The ultimate supporter of his students, Haldorson, in his own right, was a WSU Doctor of Veterinary Medicine alumnus and a skilled pathologist. A five-time student-nominated Jerry Newbrey Teaching Award recipient for excellence in teaching, Haldorson was also one of less than 3,000 board-certified pathologists through the American College of Veterinary Pathologists. He was involved in a variety of research and diagnostic testing in the college’s Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology department and Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. He was also a longtime volunteer of the college’s Diagnostic Challenge.

“Gary was so very talented in so many areas and so many ways. He excelled at whatever he put his mind to. Yet he put everything on the back burner to pursue excellence in teaching and mentoring his students,” said Kent Haldorson, Gary’s brother. “He took genuine pride in the success and accomplishments of his students.”

Although always willing to lend an ear, Haldorson was a private man.

“You would just open up and talk to him about your life, about school, about how you were doing, and when you left you realized the entire conversation was focused on me,” Yenna said. “I felt seen, I felt heard. I felt like I had everything I needed. And I didn’t really learn much about him.”

Enwards said if he had the money, he would erect a golden statue of Haldorson on the Bustad Lawn.

“I don’t know if he’d want that, even though that is what I think he deserves,” Enwards said. “He was just always there for his students, and I think it was obvious we were his passion in life.”