Fingerprints: Dr. Mary Beth Leininger
What youd ask and what youd never think to ask the first female AVMA president, Dr. Mary Beth Leininger. What are her unique fingerprints on the veterinary profession?
Some call her the First Lady of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Mary Beth Leininger, the first female president of American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), not only broke the glass ceiling, she kicked some butts that needed kicked along the way. With a pleasant smile, a dogged determination and incredible preparation, Leininger has been successful in veterinary practice, in veterinary organizations, in the industry and in life.
Where were you born and raised?
Cleveland, Ohio, in a rural area that was gradually becoming suburbanized. We had six acres behind our house so we were able to have a horse. (I was an equine veterinarian's worst nightmare-a teenage girl with a backyard horse.)
How many kids in your graduating class and how did you rank scholastically?
Top 5 percent of my 150 high school classmates, bottom 50 percent of my veterinary school classmates-and happy to have made it through gross anatomy!
What's the worst mistake you ever made as a veterinarian and what did you learn from it?
Left a sponge in the belly of an OHE. Another DVM, several years later, was removing a GI foreign body from the pet and noticed a sponge granuloma at the uterine stump. It was asymptomatic, but he still removed it. Even though he lived in another part of the state and we didn't know him personally, he called us to tell us about this-graciously, I might add. From then on I counted sponges in and out for all surgeries.
What one pet owner stands out the most after all these years?
Florence Nelson with her timid Collie and the black cat that lived under her grand piano. At least I think that's where he lived … that's where he was any time I was there.
Dr. Leininger's photo at graduation from Purdue in 1967.
Medicine or surgery?
Surgery as long as it's not orthopedic.
Who do you most admire?
Dr. Arnold Hentschl, a food animal practitioner in Harbor Beach, Michigan, who spent decades serving our profession in various VMAs and never-that I know-turned down anyone who asked him for help. Amazing man!
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Lack of discipline. I procrastinate if I don't have a deadline hanging over me.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
What words or phrase do you most overuse?
It is what it is.
What is your motto?
TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More. But one of my favorite sayings is from John F. Kennedy: “Forgive your enemies, but always remember their name.”
What is your greatest personal regret?
Not continuing to ride horses. I miss trail riding and the feeling of being away from it all.
What's your favorite childhood food that you still love today?
What food do you detest?
Liver-ugh! It smells like post-mortem lab.
Tell us about your first pet?
An English Springer Spaniel named Cindy. She was the runt of a litter, so I think my parents purchased her very cheaply. When I was growing up, there weren't any children who lived near us, so she was my constant companion. My older brother used to tease me incessantly. One afternoon he was a particularly bad pest, and I ran around inside the house absolutely screaming I was so angry. When my brother walked outside, Cindy chased him and bit his ankle. Loved that dog!
Dr. Leininger and her husband, Steve, who is also a veterinarian, at Little Mombo Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
Favorite? Sister Laura Marie, who taught music and choir and tutored me in piano for three years. The woman literally had the patience of a saint when it came to my piano prowess. Most impactful? Sister Patricia, the stern, tough principal who also taught me more than three years of French. She expected excellence and there was no question that you were going to find a way to deliver it.
What do you know now, that you wished you'd have known before you entered veterinary school that would have caused you to live your life differently?
I wish I had been savvier about finance. Our practice would have been profitable much sooner.
If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about veterinary medicine that would help pets, people and the profession, I would …
Have the world appreciate how veterinarians make a difference in their lives.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Surviving the opposition I faced on the AVMA Executive Board when I was AVMA President and staying positive about what I was trying to accomplish.
What is your most treasured possession?
A small watercolor painting of the house I grew up in called “The House Across the Street.” Our neighbor Mrs. Alice Preston painted it, on Oct. 26, 1962. There had been a heavy early snowfall and she said the trees in our yard were so beautiful she had to drop her chores and paint it quickly before the snow all melted.
What's the last song you sang out loud?
I'm always humming songs I've recently heard, like hymns after Sunday church or pieces from a theatrical performance I just attended. (It's probably hereditary; my Dad hummed, my Grandma hummed.) However, I always sing “If I Had a Hammer” by Peter, Paul and Mary.
Dr. Leininger with her dog Teddi, who has passed away, but has been succeeded by Jenny.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
When I was a senior Girl Scout in a mounted troop, we were invited to perform our troop's simplified version of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride at a huge “youth day” event in the Cleveland Stadium. Because I had my own horse, I was chosen to be one of the two flag bearers who led the troop. In the midst of the Ride, in front of more than 50,000 people, my dark green pants split right up the back, and at that stage of my life I had not learned to wear black-not white-underwear. Of all the parts of youth day that could have been shown on the TV stations that night, I was the “star.”
Describe a perfect day as a veterinarian?
Hanging out with veterinary colleagues. Dr. Clayton Mackay calls us both “veterinary junkies.”
What is the most appropriate pet name you've ever heard?
Angel Brown, a gentle, loving and beloved English Setter. One of the few families I cried with when we euthanized her.
Veterinary Economics Practice Leadership Editor Dr. Marty Becker is a renowned speaker, TV personality and author of The Healing Power of Pets: Harnessing the Amazing Ability of Pets to Make and Keep People Happy and Healthy. Dr. Becker practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho.