Over the course of my time with the AASV, I have developed an informal list of my “go to” members. These are members that I tend to lean on when a particular need arises. They always come through with assistance in meeting whatever needs demand attention. One such member has been on my list since my first summer (1994) with the AASP: Dr Rodney Johnson. His passing in late May has left a palpable void, but his life of service to pigs and people left us an example to follow.
The first time I met Rod was the summer of 1994. I had just been hired as the part-time executive liaison for the AASP. We knew many of the same people in the pork industry, but had never really met. We had dinner together at the AVMA annual convention in San Francisco. Right from the start, Rod was encouraging and supportive, offering his assistance however he could help. He never wavered in his offer over the course of the last 20 years. His sage advice was always welcome and valued.
It was evident to me right from the start that Rod valued three things: integrity, education, and helping people to be successful. He exemplified all three in his service to the pork industry and the veterinary medical profession. Rod was the AASP Practitioner of the Year in 1982. He was president of the AASP in 1985. He delivered the Howard Dunne Memorial Lecture in 1995. He was given the AASV Meritorious Service Award in 2009. Even though Rod transitioned into the role of CEO of the AVMA Professional Liability Trust (PLIT) several years ago, he remained a swine veterinarian at heart and stayed actively involved with the AASV.
In recent years, Rod was focused on the AASV Foundation. He served on the AASVF Board of Directors for many years, leading as the board chair for two terms. It was his leadership on the auction committee that has brought the foundation auction to new levels of donations and bidding. While urging others to donate and bid, Rod also led by example in his generosity to the auction. As the auctioneer, I was always comforted by the sight of Rod right there in the front row for the auction. I could always count on Rod to bid on items that were lagging a bit, even if he really did not want that item. All I needed to do was catch his eye and he would willingly take on the role as a market-maker. If it was an item he wanted, then I was confident that he would be the winning bidder.
Not satisfied with just bidding and buying at the auction, Rod and his wife, Jean, have been donating a complete Minnesota fishing trip for many years. It was always one of the most popular auction items. Word soon spread about the great fishing and the wonderful hospitality experienced on the trip. Rod and Jean were gracious hosts year after year. One of my regrets is that I never bought that fishing trip. Rod also convinced his employer, AVMA PLIT, to donate to the auction every year.
For many years, Rod had also been serving on the AASVF Investment Committee. He was a savvy investor with a keen understanding of wealth-building. He combined that understanding with his passion for helping people, especially veterinarians, to be successful. His vision for the AASVF was based on this premise. Rod was always adamant that the AASV(P) was a major factor in his success as a swine veterinarian. His goal was to make that true for each and every member of the organization today and in the future. He viewed the foundation as a way to ensure the profession of swine veterinary medicine is a viable career for the next generations of veterinarians. He wanted others to enjoy the success that he felt so blessed to have experienced.
I will miss Rod for many reasons. He was a friend and colleague. He was a mentor, cheerleader, and confidante. He was a cool-headed investor when the market was down and a conscientious leader when investing with other people’s money. He was a committed leader who continually demonstrated his integrity through thought, word, and deed. For him, education was life-long and not to be wasted. Success was not something to be taken for granted; rather, it was to be shared.
Rod saw life as a series of opportunities for service and sharing of gifts. We each have similar opportunities in our lives. Let’s use Rod’s example as inspiration so that we can each use those opportunities to be a “go to” person.
Tom Burkgren, DVM