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College mourns Dr. Harrison Gardner, emeritus professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences

The College of Veterinary Medicine is sad to announce Dr. Harrison Gardner, emeritus professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, passed away last week. 

Dr. Gardner was born in Clover Lick, West Virginia, and served in the US Navy as a Storekeeper Third Class during World War II. After the war, he spent time as a Cattleman on a Wyoming Herford ranch before attending veterinary school at The Ohio State University where he graduated in 1956. He worked as a mixed-animal veterinary practitioner in West Virginia after graduation. He returned to the college in 1960 when he joined the faculty as one of the founding members of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences. He worked, served, taught and mentored until his retirement in 1988.

A stalwart of the ambulatory service, Dr. Gardner was the primary (sole) veterinarian for both the Columbus Zoo and Select Sires during his 28-year tenure on the faculty. His approach to zoo animal medicine inspired a number of the college's graduates to enter the field. Dr. Gardner was also the primary veterinarian who served Select Sires as it developed. Today the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is one of the most highly ranked zoos and Select Sires, Inc. is a leader in the field of preserving bovine genetics through artificial insemination, embryo transfer and many other techniques. Dr. Gardner’s role and contributions were of paramount importance to helping to develop a strong foundation for which these two organizations have grown and thrived over the last few decades. 
Dr. Gardner was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the College in 1990 and received the College Alumni Society Recognition Award in 2005 in honor and recognition of his many years of contributions to veterinary education and to the advancement of veterinary care to a variety of animal species.

Read an article from the archives of the Speculum, the College of Veterinary Medicine magazine for many years, about Dr. Gardner and being a zoo veterinarian here. This “a day in the life” of Dr. Gardner focuses on his experience at the Columbus Zoo during his time as the sole veterinarian. Here are a few excerpts:

  • No animal is too great or too small, too wild or too tame to claim his medical attention. His vast knowledge and hands-on experience regarding the anatomies of a wide variety of species make him a vital component of any zoo in the world. His profession is zoo veterinarian, and he spends his days making house calls.
  • Dr. Gardner says he did not originally plan to become a zoo veterinarian. In 1974, he became acquainted with the Columbus Zoo director who offered him an opportunity to work with the animals. He accepted. "I was born on a farm," says Dr. Gardner, "and had no idea I'd be doing zoo work. That's why I tell students, learn all you can; you never know what you'll be doing."
  • As the truck rattles towards the zoo with Dr. Gardner at the wheel, he discusses his work. "Immobilizing animals is the key to the whole thing," he says. But when it comes to immobilization, the recovery of the animal he worries most about is the giraffe. "They're not hard to immobilize, but complications often develop during the anesthesia which interfere with recovery."
  • They (gorillas) also are "harder to immobilize, more difficult to get a shot into. They know what's going on and can react like humans and hide or throw things, like feces or saliva." Dr. Gardner rates the chimps "worse than gorillas" when it comes to throwing things. "They're more accurate," he chuckles.
  • Suddenly a chirping sound wafts through the air. "Listen," say Dr. Gardner with a smile. "Do you know what's making that sound?" No one knows. "It's the mountain lion," he says, "chirping like a bird."

Jerry Borin, Executive Director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium from 1992 to 2008 said, "Dr. Harrison Gardner became Columbus Zoo Veterinarian in the late 1960's when Dr. Jim Savoy was Zoo Director. Dr. Gardner's professional skills, and his humble personality served the Zoo well until the mid-to-late 1980's. Doc was admired and respected by all Zoo staff. Countless species of animals received his professional care. Animal care staff at the Zoo could easily approach Doc Gardner with questions and concerns. He always listened and shared his compassion. He will be sadly missed." 

Dr. John Hubbell, emeritus professor, said “Memories of my time with Dr. Gardner are of his patience, dedication to patient care, and his emphasis on students knowing both what to do in a situation and why they were doing it. He was one of my early mentors who prioritized safety of the veterinarian and staff in everything he did. Obviously this is important in zoo work but also when dealing with bulls at Select Sires. Above all, he cherished his family.”

Don Winstel, retired former Assistant Director at the Columbus Zoo, said “Dr. Gardner was one of the best men I've ever known. He represented the University and College so well and also opened his (and Gertie's) home to baby gorillas (and their keepers!) on one or two occasions when the zoo nursery was full. He was a gentle man who cared deeply about animals and people and always patiently took evening/night phone calls, dispensing sage advice to a young curator circa 1980.” An article from the Columbus Zoo about Dr. Gardner written by Don Winstel and published in 1988 can be accessed here.

Dusty Lombardi, former Head Keeper in the 1980s and then Director of Collections when she retired from the Columbus Zoo and now the Executive Director of the Ohio Wildlife Center, said “Dr. Gardner was the gentlest man I have ever known. One time in the 1980s we had a baby gorilla born and after many attempts to get the mom to take care of him, we had to take him into human care. I was the lead at the time, our infant nursery was full and not equipped to handle a baby gorilla. So Dr. Gardner and his wife Gertie invited us into their home for three weeks to raise the baby in their family room. They literally turned it into a neonatal care unit equipped with a human incubator. We were doing round the clock care and they provided us meals and made us a part of their family. He was such a great veterinarian, husband, father and friend of the Columbus Zoo.

Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium & The Wilds, said “Suzi and I are heartbroken over the loss of our beloved friend, Dr. Harrison Gardner. He was special in every way and was the epitome of what you would want to see in a veterinarian. Dr. Gardner was an incredible mentor – the Columbus Zoo was so blessed to have his support and his expertise for many years. His care, kindness, and keen eye for wildlife helped us to ensure our animals lived healthy, long lives. We all felt so lucky to learn from him and partner with The Ohio State University."

Dr. Eric Miller, who retired from the St. Louis Zoo in 2019 after a 36-year career in zoo animal medicine where he served many roles, including most recently the Executive Director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute, said “I had the pleasure, indeed honor, of working with Dr. Gardner while a veterinary student at the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine (1975-1979).  He recognized my interest in zoo medicine and served as one of my earliest mentors.  I have many fond memories of working with him at the Columbus Zoo, and learning from his calm, practical knowledge. I also have many fond memories of working with him on large animals.  For example, once a cow escaped from the OSU food lab and was found in a cornfield on Ackerman Road. Dr. Gardner calmly lassoed it, tied it to a tree and called for the trailer that took it back to the university all while we stood on the busy road. I will always remember his kind, calm nature, practical nature, and love of teaching in his quiet way. In my eyes, the world has lost a veterinarian who was a model for the ‘gentle doctor.’”

Dr. Don Monke, former staff veterinarian and now operations consultant at Select Sires. Inc., said of Dr. Gardner, “When I was selected to be Select Sires first staff veterinarian in May 1977, Dr. Gardner was the primary veterinarian from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Field Service staff designated to care for the bulls at Select Sires. Dr. Gardner visited Select Sires every Tuesday to conduct routine health testing for resident and recently admitted bulls and he was available as needed for bulls that were sick or lame. Dr. Gardner cared deeply about the health of the Select Sires bull herd and he wanted to be sure that it was in good hands after I was hired.  Accordingly, he continued to visit Select Sires weekly through the summer months of 1977 and I sincerely appreciated the many hours he spent with me learning how to work safely with the bulls, how to conduct physical examinations, and how to treat them for a variety of problems. Dr. Gardner particularly liked to conduct hoof examinations and trims, and he taught me many details and idiosyncrasies about hoof problems.

Because Dr. Gardner was the primary attending veterinarian when Select Sires began operations in 1973 at its headquarters located north of Plain City, he played a key role in the early years of the Select Sires business and he recognized that the company would survive only if the health of the bulls and their production was maintained in an optimal manner. After Dr. Gardner retired, he continued to attend the annual Ohio Veterinary Medical Associations Conference, now named the Midwest Veterinary Conference. I would visit with him at the Conference and he would always ask me how I was doing, asked me about the bulls, and was always happy to hear how Select Sires was growing and how the number of bulls was so much more than when he cared for them in the early days of Select Sires.”

Dr. Milton “Milt” Wyman, professor emeritus and a pioneer of modern day veterinary ophthalmology, said “Between Dr. Gardner and Dr. James Donham, the two of them taught me the art of practice and how to present oneself professionally to our clients. The two of them, in my opinion, were some of the best instructors I ever had.”

Dr. Rustin Moore, dean of the college of Veterinary Medicine said, "I personally remember Dr. Gardner from when I was in veterinary school as a kind, caring and unassuming person who was always polite and professional. I had the opportunity to get to know him and his dear wife Mrs. Gertrude Gardner once I came back to the college in 2006. They were both the sweetest people and were so loyal and passionate about the college and the veterinary profession. Dr. Gardner served as a quintessential role model for many aspiring veterinarians. All of us who had the privilege of having known him, observed him, learned from him, and tried to emulate him are better off for our experiences with him."

Read Dr. Gardner's obituary here. The family will receive friends from 4:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at SCHOEDINGER NORTHWEST CHAPEL, 1740 Zollinger Road, Upper Arlington, Ohio 43221. Guests are respectfully asked to wear masks and attendance will be monitored to ensure safety for everyone attending. Memorial contributions may be made to The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Medicine Farm Animal Support Fund (#310054), checks should be made out to The OSU Foundation, and in the memo line please write Gardner, Fund #310054 and mail to Tiffany Connors, Veterinary Medicine Academic Building, 1900 Coffey Rd, Columbus, OH 43210; or The Columbus Zoo Fund, Philanthropy Department, P.O. Box 400, Powell, Ohio 43065; or Heartland Hospice, 6500 Busch Boulevard, Suite 210, Columbus, Ohio 43229. To share memories or condolences, please visit

Last updated: 

Monday, October 26, 2020 - 10:15am