Don Haxby

Vet and adviser on poultry health
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The Independent Online

Donald Leslie Haxby, veterinary surgeon: born York 4 August 1928; Lecturer in Animal Husbandry, Nottingham College of Agriculture 1969-93; President, British Veterinary Association 1977-78; Principal, Minster Veterinary Centre, Southwell, Nottinghamshire 1979-93; President, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons 1983-84; Scientific Adviser, Agriculture Select Committee, House of Commons 1989-93; CBE 1988; married 1953 Barbara Smith (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved 1986); died Nottingham 21 August 2006.

Any man who joins the Army at 18 and leaves it at 20 as a Warrant Officer first class is clearly out of the ordinary. And WO1 Don Haxby was never, ever, ordinary. That youthful achievement was the first step in a career into which he packed veterinary practice and politics, academic lectureships, consultancies to government and industry and pioneering work on the involvement of the veterinary profession in public health.

Haxby modestly attributed his military progress to his gregarious nature and youthful sporting prowess. His affability, combined with flair for making useful contacts - and quite phenomenal energy - were qualities central to his later success. During the course of his career he held the presidencies of both the British Veterinary Association and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Born in York in 1928, he entered the Royal Veterinary College in London in 1948, qualifying MRCVS in 1953. A couple of years in practice were followed by a stint in research into veterinary medicines with Boots Pure Drug Co. Although short, this period initiated a lifelong interest in the pharmaceutical industry. Haxby preferred the relative independence of the practising veterinary surgeon, however, to being tied to a bench and in 1957 he took up a partnership in a two-man practice in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, where he spent the rest of his working life. Under his leadership it grew to become the Minster Veterinary Centre.

The area was the centre of the poultry industry, growing rapidly at the time to satisfy an increasing demand for meat and eggs. Expansion meant intensification, and with that came the potential for health problems in the large flocks now being farmed, many of them indoors. Haxby was among the first vets to become involved in the poultry industry. He helped to develop and introduce preventive medicine regimes that were vital to the health and welfare of the birds, and in preventing transmission of poultry diseases to consumers.

Haxby became a governor of the Government's Houghton Poultry Research Station, serving from 1983 to 1990, and chairman of the British Poultry Federation (1974) and of the World Poultry Veterinary Association (1985-89). He lectured veterinary students on poultry production and public health at London and Glasgow universities. He was a prime mover in the training and introduction of a cadre of official veterinary inspectors in abattoirs.

Such activities, and his expertise in applying new animal medicines to veterinary practice, enabled Haxby to acquire a list of consultancies that reads like a directory of major players in the international pharmaceutical industry.

But such work was only one aspect of Haxby's activities. His broad interests led him into veterinary politics, first with the British Veterinary Association, then the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. He became a spokesman for the profession, presenting the veterinary view on such matters as the salmonella scare in poultry in the late 1980s. His forthright advice to "cook, cook, cook" was his effective way of getting across the message that high temperatures would kill bacteria.

In his roles as president of the BVA (1977) and RCVS (1983) Haxby brought a fresh approach to meetings with bodies such as the then Ministry of Agriculture. While his informal manner did not suit everyone, it broke down barriers and improved relationships where there had sometimes been a degree of coolness between the two sides. He was said to have achieved for the veterinary profession a relationship with, and influence on, the Government that has never been surpassed.

Haxby served on many official and semi-official bodies including as a member of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee of the House of Commons. He was chairman of the UK Inter-Professional Group from 1989 to 1993.

On top of all his other commitments, Haxby enjoyed a vigorous social life. No veterinary congress was complete without his boisterous presence.

Edward Boden