Jerry Johnson DVM
Jerry H. Johnson, DVM, MS, Diplomate, ACVS, CVA, of Lexington, Ky, and Hollywood, FL, died November 9, 2020, in the arms of his devoted wife and partner of 30 years, Patricia White Johnson, and his daughter Julee Johnson. A pioneer in the field of Equine Veterinary Medicine, he was 81. Dr. Johnson is also survived by longtime friend Jo Ann Johnson, daughter Kaitlyn Hildenbrand (Maury), sister-in-law Barbara White Crockett, nieces Jennifer Knight (Mark) and Elizabeth Erickson (Nils) (daughters of his late sister-in-law Jacqueline White), nephew Major Roy B. Crockett, USMC (Anais), adopted daughter Elizabeth Connolly (Jim), grandchildren Juel Johnson; Ty, Alexa, and Ashley Hildenbrand; Christopher and John Connolly.
He also left behind his beloved doggie Bella, his rescue Thoroughbreds, his catfish pond, several John Deere tractors, and 200+ John Deere toys. During the April1990 Keeneland racemeet, Dr. Johnson met “Pattie” through mutual friend, Frances Robinson. He told Frances he wanted to ask Pattie for a date, but it would have to wait until after the (Ky) Derby. They would laugh and describe their marriage vows as “to honor and annoy.” While his life resembled a colorful roller coaster-carousel combination, he was a quiet, humble, gentle man with a dry wit and a twinkle in his eye. And he had stories to tell.
Dr. Johnson was born March 7, 1939, in Gough, GA, to Julian and Martha Kitchens Johnson. Raised on his parents' expansive working farm, he attended the University of Georgia where he earned his undergraduate and Veterinary degrees. A Veteran of 7 years in the U.S. Army Reserves, he was honorably discharged in 1963, with the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Upon graduation, he entered academia and became a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS). As a boarded surgeon, he taught equine surgery for 16 years at the University of Pennsylvania New Bolton Center, Iowa State University (MS), Kansas State University, Auburn University, and the University of Missouri.
In 2020, in the front of a gift book The Equine Distal Limb, Dr. Alex Harthill, a close friend, wrote “To Jerry Johnson, the most progressive and competent veterinarian I have ever known and best friend.” During the 1970's, Dr. Harthill flew Dr. Johnson to Louisville on numerous occasions to test various medical and technological innovations, and he would always stay with Dr. Harthill during (Ky) Derby week. Through Dr. Harthill, Dr. Johnson has been credited with introducing what is now known as Lasix (furosemide) to prevent pulmonary bleeding in Thoroughbred racehorses. Dr. Johnson was a fierce defender of the horse, and throughout his career spanning decades, he recognized bleeding increased in frequency and severity due to the consistent breeding of “bleeders.” He considered it unimaginable, unacceptable, and inhumane to withhold the therapeutic medication Lasix from their care.
As a fully tenured professor, Dr. Johnson grew weary of academia, and with Dr. Harthill's encouragement, he entered private practice in 1979, in Lexington, Ky. He was recruited to join partnerships but chose the path of private practice. Always equipped with the latest state-of-the-art equipment, it has been noted that Dr. Johnson was the first Veterinarian to use an endoscope at Thoroughbred horse auctions. He was rarely seen without one draped around his neck. In his practice, he focused on Thoroughbred racehorses and related surgeries, including arthroscopic and laser procedures. He built an equine surgery on his farm, and his expertise in equine laser surgery of the throat is recognized throughout North America. But his patients included other breeds: Budweiser Clydesdales, Belgian pulling horses, Pasofinos, Frieisian carriage horses, a stable dog, cat, or even goat. In the 1970s, he cared for Grand Prix jumpers for Rodney Jenkins, George Morris, the late Bill Graves, among others. His practice included many Ky Derby and Breeders' Cup contenders, and his client and patient lists resemble a “Who's Who.” Some well known thoroughbreds include Bold Ruler, Unbridled, Cigar, Fantastic Light, Tepin.
Dr. Johnson always approached each horse the same, whether a multimillionaire racehorse or backyard pony. He felt deeply that it was his responsibility to take care of the horse and keep it comfortable, no matter the discipline: racing, grand prix jumping, endurance, rodeo. He communicated quietly and kindly with the horse first, and took his time, before any procedure. He was kind to every human as well, from hotwalker to billionaire owner. Always the professor, he would take the time to explain a diagnosis with a picture, video or x-ray, to anyone who would listen.
Also, from the early 1970's to 2019, Dr. Johnson worked tirelessly to convince Tennessee Walking Horse connections to eliminate the pain and suffering inflicted on walkers through the cruel and inhumane practice of “soring,” which produces the unnecessary “big lick.” He traveled to Shelbyville often, created video demonstrations on how to identify soring, and traveled to Washington, D.C., on several occasions to explain the Veterinary perspective.
He conducted field trial studies for pharmaceutical companies including Merck, Merial and Schering-Plough, and served on the KY Equine Drug Research Council. He performed endoscopic examinations on the stomachs of 2,500 racehorses along the East Coast to test the results of a new treatment for ulcers now known as Merial's GastroGard. Licensed in numerous states, he served on arbitration panels for Thoroughbred auction companies Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, Ocala Breeders, Barretts, NY Breeders. For 40 years, he also practiced in Jamaica and advised their Thoroughbred industry.
In 2001, Dr. Johnson spent a month in Dubai and headed up the Veterinary team in charge of quarantine for the Dubai World Cup. Afterward, the Dubai Equine Hospital invited him to move to Dubai. But the world changed that year, following the September 11 terrorist attacks, and he declined the invitation. His son-in-law, Jim Connolly, is a surviving NYFD firefighter of that tragic day.
Always educating himself, Dr. Johnson became intrigued by Equine Acupuncture. He was skeptical. But in 2008, after his first week at Chi University, he realized how much acupuncture could benefit a horse. He became certified (CVA) and helped hundreds of horses.
Dr. Johnson lectured nationally and internationally on equine respiratory diseases and lameness. He authored chapters in veterinary textbooks and had articles published in the American Association of Equine Practitioners Proceedings, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and Journal of Equine Medicine and Surgery. He also traveled internationally to perform veterinary procedures. He was a member of the AVMA, AAEP, ACVS, NAARV, KVMA, KAEP, FAEP, The Thoroughbred Club, The Keeneland Club.
Private about his devout Christian faith, Dr. Johnson felt blessed by God to be a steward of His creatures and His land. He would whisper prayers to God for guidance when caring for patients, and he felt closest to Him out in the fields on his John Deere tractors. Dr. Johnson was a true horseman and a Southern gentleman who will be missed by many.
A memorial service will be held in 2021. He loved Georgia, loved his Georgia “Bulldogs,” and credits the College of Veterinary Medicine for his long and successful career. The family has established a Memorial Fund in his honor, and requests remembrances be made in the form of contributions to the UGA Foundation (please note The Jerry H. Johnson, D.V.M., Memorial Fund), Office of Development, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602; or through this link: https://gail.uga.edu/jerryjohnson