Penn Vet Educator, Equine Surgeon Charles Raker Dies at 93

Dr. Charles W. Raker was a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Dr. Charles W. Raker

Charles W. Raker, VMD, Dipl. ACVS, who co-founded the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center campus and was credited with training many of today’s equine surgeons, died Feb. 16. He was 93.

Dr. Raker was a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, which he helped found in 1965 and served as president in the mid-1970s.

“Dr. Raker was a quiet giant, a gentleman, modest and humble, a trusted man of integrity,” said Corinne Sweeney, DVM, New Bolton Center’s associate dean and executive director of its large animal hospital. “He was such an important figure in the history of veterinary surgery and of New Bolton Center.”

Raised in Chester County, Pa., Raker spent eight years in private practice after graduating from Penn Vet’s School of Veterinary Medicine in 1942. He returned to Penn Vet in 1950 as an assistant professor of veterinary medicine in a move designed to enhance the school’s livestock and large animal curriculum.

“I looked on teaching as a challenge and never looked back,” he later recalled.

After helping establish New Bolton Center in 1952, Raker took a crash course in surgery at Cornell University with a focus on large animal surgery, the university reported. He was appointed chairman of the surgery department in 1956 and less than a decade later was named the recipient of the Lawrence Baker Sheppard Endowed Chair in Veterinary Surgery.

For nearly 30 years Raker served as chief of large animal surgery at New Bolton Center, introducing surgical techniques and mentoring students, interns and residents.

His mantra, according to Penn Vet, was “Remember the three ‘C’s’: be a caring person, a compassionate person and remember that communication is vital to success in all things.”

Raker retired in 1985, the same year the Charles W. Raker Chair in Equine Surgery was established. The chair today is held by Dean W. Richardson, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, the chief of New Bolton Center’s surgery section.

“To hold a position named after a person so widely admired is an inestimable privilege,” Dr. Richardson said. “Charlie was a remarkably fair, honest and open-minded person. I called him ‘Dr. Raker’ for well over 20 years, but he finally forced me to stop doing so. No matter what you called him, Charlie Raker was simply a great human being.”

Raker also was remembered for going out of his way to support the work of female veterinarians.

“Unlike many veterinarians of his generation, Dr. Raker promoted the inclusion of women in large animal practice and mentored the first female large animal surgical residents,” Cornell graduate Sarah M. Khatibzadeh, DVM, wrote in a 2012 blog. “His professionalism, kindness and humility are traits to which all veterinarians should aspire.”

Raker appointed Olive K. Britt, DVM, as the first female intern-resident in Penn Vet’s large animal clinic. Dr. Britt was the first female equine practitioner in Virginia and treated the legendary racehorse Secretariat.

“He was the man most responsible for my success,” Britt recalled before her death in 2006. “He fashioned in me the knowledge to become an accomplished equine practitioner. He was at all times available to his students. Even after they graduated, he considered them members of his team.

“A brilliant, strong leader, he used his abilities in such a gentle, gracious manner that he coaxed from his students their best efforts,” she added. “He taught me how to talk to clients to lessen their distress and not to offend. He taught me honesty. ‘When you lack an answer,’ he said, ‘tell people you don’t know but that you’ll make every effort to find out.’”

Raker received the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Distinguished Educator Award in 2000 and the American College of Veterinary Surgeons’ Foundation Legends Award in 2007.

“My favorite memory is of him receiving the award from the AAEP, when the enormous audience expected a frail, elderly figure to say a few words,” said Joan C. Hendricks, VMD, Ph.D., the dean of Penn Vet’s veterinary school.

“He gave a vigorous, patented Raker lecture urging them to action,” Dr. Hendricks recalled. “It was very special, vintage Charlie and wonderful to see the equine veterinary world share what we at Penn Vet have been able to enjoy for decades.”

The New Bolton Center campus, situated in Kennett Square, Pa., treats 33,000 patients a year and includes a swine center, a working dairy and a poultry unit.

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