VMBS Donors Establish Student Community Outreach Surgical Program
Story by Jennifer Gauntt, VMBS Communications
Among the reasons Dr. Bill and Joyce Roach so dearly value education is because of the profound impact education has had on their lives.
“Graduating from veterinary school was a life-changing thing for me and my family,” said Bill, veterinary class of ’57. “Because of the education that I got here at Texas A&M, I was able to go out and practice, do what I wanted to do, and get paid for what I really wanted to do.”
Growing up in Andrews, Texas, in a family that didn’t have much, a professional education was a luxury Bill never thought he would have.
“My daddy was a carpenter and a painter, a really, really hard worker; we had a little place outside of town where we had milk cows, all kinds of chickens, big gardens, and an orchard,” Bill said. “We grew or raised nearly everything we ate.”
When the time came to make a decision about his education, Bill initially considered Texas Tech, which, at only 120 miles away, was considerably closer than College Station, but after visiting Texas A&M as a member of several high school agricultural teams, the choice was an easy one.
“I just thought Texas A&M was the premier university, and if you’re going to get an education, you go to a good one,” he said.
At Texas A&M, he was a member of the Corps of Cadets—an experience he said prepared him for veterinary school—and was originally an animal husbandry major, with plans to become a county extension agent.
“My second year, I was in class with pre-vet students, and I realized that if I became an agriculture agent, advancement would require moving from a county with a smaller population to a county with a bigger population,” Bill said. “Then I realized I wanted to try something that offered greater opportunities; since I was in classes with a bunch of pre-vet students, had good grades, and liked animals, I thought I would change my major to pre-vet and apply to veterinary school.”
As Bill entered the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (VMBS), he embarked on a path that would enable him to give back to Texas A&M in ways he never dreamed he would be able to.
Building A Home And A Practice
As a veterinary student, Bill returned to West Texas in the summers and at Christmas holidays to work in the oil fields as a roustabout to earn enough money to continue paying for his six-year degree. It was there that he met Joyce, an Andrews transplant by way of California and Oklahoma.
“(We met because) I had a date with another boy, but I stood him up,” Joyce recalled. “When I asked my dad to tell him I wasn’t there, my dad said, ‘I am not going to lie for you.’ So, I had to get in my car and leave. I met Bill while I was ducking that boy.”
“That was just a lucky day, the day we met each other,” Bill said.
In 1956, between his junior and senior year in veterinary school, Bill and Joyce married, and that summer, Bill worked in a small animal hospital in San Angelo, not only applying the knowledge of medicine and surgery learned in the classroom but learning how to make a living as a business owner.
Following his graduation, Bill and Joyce moved to Killeen, where they raised their three children, owned Killeen Veterinary Clinic for 37 years, and lived “a good life.”
“Killeen was a really good place to grow up,” Bill said. “It was a very patriotic community, being right next to Fort Hood, the largest military base in the free world; probably half of my clients were either military or retired military.”
Among the encounters Bill had as a practitioner was caring for the dog of Gen. George S. Patton’s son, who was a two-star general at the time, and quarantining the dog that bit Elvis Presley when he was stationed at Fort Hood.
“He was trying to sneak through the backyard, so he wouldn’t come in contact with all of the teenagers who always drove up and down by his house,” Bill said, with Joyce adding that Presley had lived across the creek from them. “So, my claim to fame was being the veterinarian who quarantined the dog that bit Elvis Presley.”
But their proximity to Presley wasn’t as glamorous as one might think.
“At the time I didn’t even like him, because there were so many cars that went up and down the road,” Joyce said. “Those streets weren’t paved then and it was very dusty.”
A Commitment To Community
In 1958, the Roaches opened Killeen Veterinary Clinic with a lot of heart and a little know-how but very little money.
“When I graduated from A&M, we had lived pretty poor for a time; we didn’t even have enough money to leave A&M when we moved to Killeen,” Bill said. “We borrowed $200 from the A&M Mothers’ Club, and they let me pay it back at, I think, $10 a month.
“It was pretty difficult, starting out on my own, with finding a place to set-up housekeeping and a decent car to drive; starting my own veterinary practice; and a daughter on the way,” he said.
While Bill had always had an affinity for surgery, he received most of his surgical experience as a veterinary student outside of the classroom, at the practice he worked at in San Angelo; in veterinary school at that time, the professors mostly performed the surgeries while the students watched.
“I had a great veterinary education, but I had to learn about how to make a living as an owner of a veterinary practice. I needed to learn about record keeping, real estate, taxes, and investments,” Bill said. “Education opens up so many opportunities, and I wanted the knowledge to participate in those opportunities.
“I never stopped being inspired by education and the life-changing opportunities it brings,” he said.
This is the resounding sentiment behind the Roaches’ decision to fund the Dr. William A. Roach ’55 Family Department Head Chair in Small Animal Clinical Sciences.
In early conversations the Roaches had with the VMBS Development team, including Dr. Bubba Woytek, and VMBS Small Animal Clinical Sciences Department (VSCS) head Dr. Jon Levine on how the funds would be used, Levine presented the idea to establish the Roach Family Student Community Outreach Surgical Program.
“When my family decided to endow this department chair in small animal surgery, I wanted it to do something meaningful for students, as surgery was the most interesting and rewarding part of veterinary practice for me,” Bill said. “I learned most of my surgical skills after graduation; I wanted today’s students to have more opportunities while in college to perform a greater number and variety of surgeries to build their skills and confidence while being taught by some really outstanding veterinary surgeons.
“Dr. Levine and his imaginative team expounded on my ideas and developed a program administered by students, with surgeries performed by students and monitored by surgeons on pets that risk being euthanized because of a lack of funds to pay for their surgery,” he said.
Because surgical procedures are being offered for Brazos Valley pets belonging to owners with limited financial means, who otherwise would not be able to receive the much-needed surgical care, the Roaches see the program as win-win.
In addition, students get experience in some of the business aspects of veterinary medicine, something Bill had to learn through mentorship and on his own.
And, as importantly, those living in the Bryan-College Station area, an area the Roaches love so much, get the benefit of more time with their animal companions.
“Not only do we get to help the community, which is something Joyce and I have done all of our lives, but we get to help the community we are a part of,” Bill said.
The Roaches said they will forever be grateful to the A&M Mothers’ Club, which stepped in when they needed help the most, and in the spirit of Aggies helping Aggies, they are delighted that their generosity will impact two of the things Bill loves most—education and veterinary medicine.
“Everyone wins with these well-thought-out ideas,” Bill said. “Joyce and I are very pleased to be able to give back to Texas A&M and the School of Veterinary Medicine in return for all they have done for me and my family of Aggies.”
Note: This story originally appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of CVMBS Today.
For more information about the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of VMBS Communications, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; email@example.com; 979-862-4216