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Penn Vet's 'legendary' Dr. Charles Raker dies at 93


Longtime equine veterinary surgeon, professor leaves lasting legacy at his alma mater.

The namesake of the Charles W. Raker Chair in Equine Surgery and one of the founders of the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine died Feb. 16. Charles Raker, VMD, DACVS, 93, was called a “giant” of equine veterinary medicine, a renowned surgeon, a gracious teacher and a compassionate clinician. His professional career spanned 43 years, and his work with students and faculty at Penn Vet continued well into his retirement.

Corinne Sweeney, DVM, New Bolton’s associate dean and executive director of its large-animal hospital, says in a university release that “Dr. Raker was a quiet giant, a gentleman, modest and humble, a trusted man of integrity. He was such an important figure in the history of veterinary surgery, and of New Bolton Center, so accomplished and respected worldwide. And yet he was so giving of his time and was so willing to share his talents. He made a lifelong, lasting impression on the students, interns and residents he trained who have gone on to distinguished careers around the world.”

A 1942 alumnus of Penn Vet, Raker spent eight years in private practice before being recruited by his alma mater in 1950 as an assistant professor in its livestock and large animal department. The New Bolton Center, the university’s 700-acre large animal hospital campus in rural Kennett Square, Pa., opened in 1952. The opening prompted Raker to study large animal surgery at Cornell University, and he was appointed chairman of the center’s department of surgery in 1956. Raker helped found and was a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1965 and received the Lawrence Baker Sheppard Endowed Chair in veterinary surgery in 1967.

Penn Vet says that during Raker’s nearly 30-year tenure as the New Bolton Center’s chief of large animal surgery, he introduced new surgical techniques and inspired and mentored countless students, interns and residents. “His mantra for students, house officers and clinicians alike was, ‘Remember the three C’s. Be a caring person, a compassionate person and remember that communication is vital to success in all things,’” the university release states.In 1985, the Charles W. Raker Chair in Equine Surgery was established, funded by New Bolton Center clients and Penn Vet alumni. The chairmanship acknowledges Raker for his “seminal contributions to equine surgery and his penchant for mentoring aspiring young faculty.”

Dean W. Richardson, DVM, AB, chief of New Bolton Center’s section of surgery, holds the Raker chair today. “The greatest honor I have had in my career is holding the Charles W. Raker endowed professorship here at Penn Vet,” Richardson says. “To hold a position named after a person so widely admired is an inestimable privilege. He was such a generous and humble man, and one who was so well loved by his clients that it was no surprise to anyone that it took no time at all to get a professorship endowed in his name. Charlie was a remarkably fair, honest and open-minded person. I called him ‘Dr. Raker’ for well over 20 years, but he finally forced me to stop doing so. No matter what you called him, Charlie Raker was simply a great human being.”

In addition to honors from Penn Vet, the American Association of Equine Practitioners recognized Raker in 2000 with its Distinguished Educator Award. In 2007, he received the American College of Veterinary Surgeons’ Foundation Legends Award. He was also noted for his encouragement of women in large-animal practice and support of veterinary student scholarships.

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