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Dr. Robert R. Marshak -- in memoriam

By: Martin J. Hackett Date: Oct 23, 2020

Dr. Robert Marshak-in memoriam

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine announced that Dean Emeritus Robert R. Marshak died peacefully on October 20, 2020 at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse. He was 97.

“Dean Marshak’s accomplishments as Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine are surpassed only by his unwavering love and dedication to our community," said the Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of Veterinary Medicine, Andrew M. Hoffman, DVM, DVSc. “He worked tirelessly to redefine the veterinary profession and he is unquestionably the ‘Father of Veterinary Clinical Specialties’. Dr. Marshak will be greatly missed; by his adoring family, by the veterinarians and scientists who respected him so deeply, and by his extraordinary network of cherished friends and colleagues. His passionate and deep commitment to basic science revolutionized our institution, and his legacy will live on. On behalf of the entire School, we extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Margo, and to his sons William, John, and Richard Marshak, and Derrick Marshall.”

Robert R. Marshak was the ninth dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. With a career that spanned decades, he was one of the School’s most dedicated and transformative leaders.

“I attended the School of Veterinary Medicine from 1974 to 1980 when it was ‘Bob Marshak’s School’”, said Joan C. Hendricks, VMD, PhD, who served as the School’s twelfth dean from 2006 to 2018. “I was specifically there to be trained in the pioneering VMD-PhD program. His brilliance and innovation were palpable. Those he affected are legion. Throughout my time at Penn, all 44 years, the professoriate was proud of what was accomplished under his leadership. As dean, it was my special honor that, in collaboration with his wife Margo and others, we were able to get him to accept a celebration of his career with luminaries such as former University Provost Dr. Vartan Gregorian and others. True to his origins as a bovine veterinarian, he was genuinely touched by the dairy calf, ‘Bobby’, who was the big gift for this occasion. He transformed the profession and remained both proud and passionate about quality veterinary science training throughout his life.”

“Dean Mark Allam appointed Bob Marshak, a 33 year-old, opera-loving, dairy practitioner from Vermont, as professor of Medicine, and later, as head of the School’s Department of Medicine,” said Alan M. Kelly, BSc, BVSc, PhD, who served as the School’s eleventh dean from 1994 to 2005. “It was a remarkably bold and astute move, for Bob was a gifted leader who played a seminal role in transforming the quality of animal health care and modernizing veterinary medicine not only at Penn, but for the profession of veterinary medicine across the globe. Under his leadership the concept of clinical specialties took root and flourished. The School became the #1 veterinary school in the U.S. as Bob defined the School’s enduring reputation for excellence in research and evidence-based medicine. He is fondly remembered for his dazzling accomplishment, but also for his compassion, and boundless generosity. We all loved him.”

A 1945 graduate of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Marshak joined the School’s faculty in 1956 as professor. Two years later, in 1958, Marshak was appointed chair of the Department of Medicine.

As department chair, Marshak addressed the great disparity between programs for clinical studies in medical schools and those in veterinary schools. He recruited clinician-scientists who had established reputations, reconfigured work schedules so hospital clinicians had time available for research, and he defined clinical veterinary specialties in response to the evolving need for advanced levels of competency.

In 1973, University President Martin Meyerson appointed Marshak dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. During his fourteen year tenure, Marshak stewarded the School through a period of sweeping change, innovation, and investment.

He oversaw the construction of the School’s small animal hospital in the mid-1970s; enhancements and additions to Widener Hospital at New Bolton Center; as well as the building of the C. Mahlon Kline Center for Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, home to the School’s large animal orthopedic surgical suite and pool recovery system.

Marshak’s legacy and impact extended well-beyond the School’s physical plant. Under his leadership, the School garnered an international reputation as a trailblazer in comparative medical research. He introduced a core-elective curriculum; launched pioneering new programs such as the Program of Aquatic Animal Medicine in 1976, as well as the Center for Interactions of Animals and Society in 1979.

A determined and unflagging advocate for the School, Marshak was an outstanding fundraiser across both private and public sectors. In 1983, he led the five-year, $41.5 million Second Century capital campaign that accelerated the School’s breakthroughs in cancer research, reproductive physiology, and pathobiology; and provided the School with an unprecedented foundation that has allowed the School to flourish in the decades since.

Marshak was a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and served as president in 1975. He served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the American Journal of Veterinary Research, the Journal of the American Veterinary Radiology Society, and the Cornell Veterinarian.

Marshak held numerous veterinary association leadership roles including chair of the Committee of Postdoctoral Education of the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians; member of the Committee on Veterinary Medical Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences; member of the Council on Research of the American Veterinary Medical Association; member of the Advisory Council of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University; member of the Secretary’s Animal Health Advisory Board of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture; and many more.

Marshak was a prolific investigator, publishing scientific papers on bovine leukemia, metabolic diseases, and leptospirosis. In 1968, Marshak received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern, Switzerland, as part of Dies academicus, an annual ceremony that commemorates the founding of the University of Bern.