Ben Rigsby was an animal health technician who worked for USDA Veterinary Services in Alabama for a long time. He passed away in late February 2005.
It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years since you passed on. I hate that I never got to tell you good-bye. But I suppose standing in line at the post office one minute and being in heaven the next is not such a bad way to go. That sure reminded me of one thing. That was to let people know you appreciate them while you have the chance. Anyway, I think you knew how much I appreciated your friendship and the sage advice you gave me over the years. I remember getting to know you while I was still in practice and working at the Brewton Stockyard. You were quite an influence on my decision to leave private practice and go into regulatory medicine working for the State Department of Agriculture and Industries and to ultimately become the State Veterinarian.
I still think about the advice you gave me when I became State Veterinarian. You told me that I worked for someone who was elected politically and for me to let them handle the political stuff and for me to stick with what was best for animal health and animal agriculture in the state, without wading off into the political arena. I have tried to abide by that and it has seemed to serve me well. Over the years, I have had some fellow state veterinarians in other states who went out on a limb politically and the limb got sawed off. Hopefully, they had their résumés up to date when that happened. Even now, I think about when you used to ask me if I felt I needed a helping hand. When I would say "yes," you would tell me to look at the end of my arm and I would find one. Nowadays, after some continual economic hard times and deep budget cuts, I often wish for more help. Then I think about what you said and realize the only helping hand we may get is from those found at the end of our own arms.
Ben, I don’t know if y’all pay much attention to what goes on down here, but there sure have been some interesting times during the decade since you have been gone. Do you remember when all of us state and federal animal health folks from Alabama met in Cullman as the Brucellosis Program was winding down? We met to discuss what we would do to justify our paychecks after we became brucellosis free. You know, Ben, you spent most of your career getting rid of brucellosis. I’m glad I was able to be involved in the program, even if it was right at the end. That was an example of how state and federal animal health officials, and industry worked together to rid animal agriculture of a disease that truly was a serious problem economically as well as a public health concern. Anyway, I remember we came up with a whole bunch of things we could do to fill a 40-hour week after brucellosis. It’s kind of funny, but we have never had to refer to that list of stuff we came up with to keep busy.
Ben, I know you remember how we had really ramped up the number of samples collected for BSE surveillance after the "mad cow" epidemic over in the United Kingdom back in mid-1990s and early-2000s. Well, a little more than a year after you left us, we had a BSE-positive cow here in Alabama. It was a pretty intense few weeks as we tried to trace the cow to the farm of origin. It all worked out alright, but it did teach us that we definitely needed some way to trace diseased and exposed animals.
You know, back about the time you left us, USDA started working on some way to trace diseased and exposed animals.
I know what you’re thinking, "If we had kept testing animals at the stockyard for brucellosis, we would have still had a way to at least trace cattle and swine."
It has, to say the least, been quite a ride to get from when it all began to be rolled out back in 2005 until now. It won’t surprise you that there were a lot of people who thought it was some way the government was trying to meddle into their business. I know you would have been scratching your bald head wondering why people couldn’t understand that we were trying to take steps to take care of animal agriculture before some foreign animal disease strikes.
Speaking of foreign animal diseases, back in 2005 and 2006, highly pathogenic avian influenza was in the news all the time. Some of the experts were predicting that the bird flu, as it was called, would significantly alter human history by mutating so it could pass from human to human and would wipe out about a third to half of the world’s population. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The same goes for the variant BSE or, as I hesitate to call it, Mad Cow Disease. The experts back in the late-1990s said there would be hundreds of thousands of people die from the disease. The last I knew, there were still less than 200 people worldwide who have died from the disease.
That has taught me two or three things I had always suspected about things like this. First, everybody has an opinion. Second, to be recognized as an expert, you only need a briefcase and to be more than 50 miles from home. And finally, you can predict stuff all day, but, the fact is, you just never know how these things will turn out until time passes. Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is now in the United States and could be the next big thing we deal with. Other states and your old federal colleagues are fighting it even as I write this letter.
Oh well, I ramble on. I do want to tell you that the family is doing fine. The kids are almost all grown. Nathan is working on a master’s degree at Auburn. Samuel and Madeline are getting close to getting out of high school. Man, they grow up too fast. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.
By the way, I have a young filly I am training when I get a little free time. I wish you were still around and could give me some pointers.
I suppose you see Dr. Carl Wilson up there occasionally. Tell him we sure miss him, too. He set the standard for all associate state veterinarians to live up to. Also, I figure you have met Dr. Bob Carson. He was one of my professors at the Vet School and a great friend. He hasn’t been up there long, but I know y’all have a lot in common. We really miss him down here, too.
Anyway, Ben, I’ve got to close for now. You probably already knew most of the things I wrote about, but I mostly wanted you to know that you are not forgotten. I often think about you and the good times we had. So I’m going to close for now. I will catch you again somewhere down the road.
Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama. You can contact him at 334-240-7253.