In Memoriam: William D. Carlson, DVM, PhD (1928-2003)

Bill Carlson was one of the founders of the American College of Veterinary Radiology. He was one of five members of the organizing committee for what was then called the American Board of Veterinary Radiology (ABVR). The ABVR was developed by the Educators in Veterinary Radiologic Science (EVRS) which was organized in 1957 through the efforts of W. Harker Rhodes and Bill Carlson to bring together those veterinarians in teaching institutions who had a primary responsibility for radiology. It was a stated objective of that group to establish a recognized specialty in veterinary radiology. In 1960, the EVRS selected the initial members of the ABVR organizing committee. In addition to Carlson, they included Rhodes from the University Pennsylvania, W.C. Banks of Texas A&M, M. K. Emerson of Iowa State and G. B. Schnelle of Angell Memorial Hospital. Carlson served as secretary-treasurer of the EVRS and as vice-president of the ABVR. The organizing committee was recognized by the AVMA in 1962. The first examination was given in 1965 and final AVMA approval was given in 1966. The name was changed to the American College of Veterinary Radiology at the request of the AVMA in 1969.

Bill Carlson was a major influence on veterinary radiology in just ten years of active involvement. His students during that time were: Al Corley, Dick Dixon, Ellis Hall and me. They were four of the six candidates who took the first veterinary radiology board examination in 1965. The other candidates were Charlie Reid from Pennsylvania and Jack Alexander from Guelph. Other students of Carlson’s who became diplomates later were: Joe Morgan, Lou Corwin, Jack Lebel, Jim Ticer, Tim O’Brien and Mark Guffey. In the early ‘60s, Bill had an old Cadillac which he would load up with his students and head for Chicago and the EVRS. They would sometimes start out from Fort Collins Thanksgiving afternoon to arrive in Chicago Friday evening. The EVRS met Saturday and Sunday. The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) began Sunday evening with the famous film reading session. Bill and his students packed a room or two in the Palmer House where the RSNA and the EVRS met for several years. Carlson’s students and their students developed radiology programs at Florida, North Carolina State University, Louisiana State University, Missouri, Tuskegee, Kansas, California and Sydney, Australia. A significant portion of the current membership of the ACVR have some connection with the origins of the program at Colorado State University. Carlson spent considerable effort promoting veterinary radiology in various meetings and conferences all across the United States and internationally during that ten year period. Carlson’s ‘‘Veterinary Radiology’’ first published in 1961 had 3 editions. He had well over 100 publications in veterinary and other journals.

Bill Carlson received his education from grade school through veterinary school in his home town of Fort Collins, Colorado. With the support of Stuart A. Patterson, M.D., a Fort Collins radiologist, Bill was admitted to the radiology residency program for physicians at the University of Colorado Medical School in Denver. During that same period, Carlson completed work for a PhD in the University of Colorado, Department of Radiology. The chair of his dissertation committee was R. R. Lanier, M.D., the head of the department. A member of Carlson’s committee was Theodore Puck, the eminent biological scientist who first described a radiation survival curve for mammalian cells which had significant impact on radiation biology and radiation oncology in subsequent years. Carlson’s dissertation was on dose fractionation studies in mouse tumors and normal tissues. His objective was to study some of the underlying relationships of the Strandquist curve. He observed some of the differences that were subsequently explained by Withers and others. He completed his PhD in 1958 although he had begun work full time at Colorado State University as Professor of Radiology in 1957. By the early 60’s, he had attracted major funding from the United States Atomic Energy Commission, the National Institutes of Health and several private foundations. Carlson had a significant influence on the development of the biomedical science research program in the College of Veterinary Medicine. The College was renamed Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences during his tenure. In addition to research grants, Carlson obtained a grant from the United States Public Health Service to train people in the radiological health sciences. That provided funding for additional faculty in radiation biology, radiation physics and veterinary radiology. Many of his students completed PhDs in that program in addition to receiving training in veterinary radiology. In 1962, he obtained funding from the U.S. Public Health Service for the Collaborative Radiological Health Animal Research Laboratory which provided support for the department for 40 years. The size and scope of the program that he was building lead the University to recognize it as a department in 1964 and he was its first Chairman. The department which began as the Department of Radiology and Radiation Biology was subsequently renamed the Department of Radiological Health Sciences and more recently, the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. Its second chairman was Max Zelle who had been director of the biology division of U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The third chairman was M. M. Elkind perhaps best know for describing ‘‘Elkind repair’’ of radiation induced DNA damage.

In addition to being department chairman, he served as President of the Board and acting director of the Colorado State University Research Foundation. He chaired the University Biological Science Task Force committee which made recommendations later implemented for major restructuring of the University for its emerging role as a major research University. In 1968, he became President of the University of Wyoming and served in that role for the next 11 years. He finished his career as the Associate Administrator of the Office of Grants and Program Systems with the United States Department of Agriculture.

Bill Carlson was one of the ‘‘good guys’’. He had a great sense of humor, incredible energy and a great deal of ambition. In the very first conversation I had with Bill after arriving in Fort Collins in 1959, he said Colorado State was a great place for opportunists. That proved to be true for both of us. Although Bill was very competitive and could rise to anger, he was very careful about how he expressed those emotions. In high school, Bill was quarterback of the Fort Collins football team. A teammate of his told me an opposing lineman had once knocked Bill flat on his face and shoved his head in the mud. Bill jumped up, smiled at the defensive player and said, ‘‘You rascal, you’’. That must have been far more infuriating than if Bill had called into question the legitimacy of his opponent’s birth.

Bill received many awards. The one I think he was most proud of was the William E. Morgan Alumni Achievement Award. That is the highest award given by Colorado State University. Dr. Morgan was President of the University when Bill was a student. Bill was active in student government and became good friends with Morgan who supported his development at CSU. Bill and his wife, Bev, were married in 1950 while Bill was still in veterinary school. They had two children; Susan, a nurse and health educator and Earl, a veterinarian. After Bill’s retirement, he and Bev moved to Denton, Texas to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren. Earl and his wife, Mary, also a veterinarian, live in Bill’s grandfather’s house in Fort Collins in which Bill and Bev began their family. He was very proud of his family and he was proud of his role in the development of veterinary radiology. Bill enjoyed visiting Fort Collins from time to time to visit with Earl and Mary and do repairs on the old family home. Occasionally, we would have lunch and talk about the old times. Everyone I’ve talked with about those times agree that those were the good old days.

He will be missed.

Ed Gillette
Ft. Collins, Colorado
Veterinary Radiology & Ultrasound 2004 45 (3), 277–278.