In Memoriam

In Memoriam

Hanspeter Witschi, MD

Hanspeter Witschi, MDWe are saddened to share that Hanspeter Witschi, MD, passed away on January 18. He was professor emeritus in the Department of Molecular Biosciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, and the Division of Pulmonary Medicine and Critical Care, Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine.

A Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology and the Academy of Toxicological Sciences, Dr. Witschi obtained his medical degree from the University of Berne and Geneva in 1960 and joined our faculty in the Department of Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology in 1987 as a Professor and as Associate Director of the Toxic Substances Research and Teaching Program in the Laboratory of Energy-related Health Research. Before coming to UC Davis, Dr. Witschi held appointments at the Universities of Cincinnati, Pittsburg, and Montreal in pharmacology and toxicology, was Head of the Toxicology section at Oakridge National Laboratory, Oakridge TN, and an adjunct professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee.

Trained as a pathologist and toxicologist, Dr. Witschi was internationally recognized for his contributions to mechanistic understanding of lung injury, especially pulmonary fibrosis, and experimental lung and liver carcinogenesis and mutagenesis. Extensive earlier studies focused on agents like butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and paraquat and later work on environmental effects of cigarette smoke and chemoprevention of deleterious pulmonary effects. 

His colleagues and collaborators particularly remember the impact of his mentorship of faculty and postdoctoral fellows. During his tenure at UCD, Hanspeter was widely recognized as a strong supporter of collaborative multidisciplinary research and training programs. This was especially evident in his service as campus coordinator of Toxicology, as Associate Director of the Institute of Toxicology and Environmental Health (ITEH) and of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences.  In these roles, he was instrumental in acquiring large program and center grants from EPA, NIOSH, and NIEHS. He provided scientific expertise to the California Air Resources Board, Environmental Protection Agency, and World Health Organization. Author of more than 200 scientific reports and book chapters, Dr. Witschi served in editorial roles for a number of journals including as editor for Toxicology for more than two decades. His leadership helped to shape the field of mechanistic toxicology as an interdisciplinary science that investigates cause-effect relationships.  

The Inhalation Specialty section of the Society of Toxicology recognized him with a career achievement award in 1995.


Dr. Robert (Bob) Leighton

Dr. Robert (Bob) LeightonWe are saddened to share that Dr. Robert (Bob) Leighton passed away on January 22.  Bob would have been 103 next month. A Charter Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1941. Bob’s interest in veterinary medicine was stimulated while working as a volunteer at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital, Boston. He continued to spend his summers there during veterinary school and oversaw the transition from antiseptic to aseptic surgery.

After graduation, he completed an internship and then worked as junior staff surgeon at Angell, before serving in the US Army during World War II. In 1944, he returned to the Massachusetts SPCA Rowley Animal Hospital until he was recruited as chief of surgery for New York’s Ellin Prince Speyer Free Hospital for Animals (renamed the Animal Medical Center in 1959). Bob joined the surgical faculty at UC Davis in September 1965, working with Drs. Alida Wind and Gary Gourley teaching surgery and providing orthopedic surgical care until 1983. After retiring, Bob remained active giving tours of the VMTH, of which he was very proud, for visiting veterinarians and prospective veterinary students and families. Bob continued lecturing and teaching orthopedic courses for more than 25 years, hosted groups of Japanese veterinarians on campus for many years, and was widely appreciated for his continuing education courses in Chile and Argentina. His professional contributions were recognized by awards from the California Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, UC Davis, the University of Chile, and the University of Pennsylvania. 

An innovative surgeon, Bob developed or modified many surgical techniques, and developed instruments (mouth speculum, drill guides, and retrieval devices) and early orthopedic implants, including early prosthetic cruciate ligaments and hips. His father, an expert machinist, fabricated many of these devices. Many of Bob’s early publications were focused on intramedullary pinning in small animals. He authored a number of textbooks including Small Animal Orthopedics, A Compendium of Small Animal Surgery, and Radiology of Small Animal Fracture Management. He also authored a children’s book ‘Dog Stories for Spencer’ for his grandson Spencer based on his veterinary experiences to encourage children to read and learn about dogs. He influenced generations of veterinarians and the careers of many specialist surgeons, and the orthopedic treatment room in the VMTH is named after him. 

Replete with stories of his surgical adventures and life experiences, he enjoyed attending the annual faculty dinner, and was adored by department staff who hosted his birthday parties and kept a close eye on him after he moved into Atria-Covell Gardens. Bob wrote many stories, which he would read to other residents at the weekly ‘Writings and Readings with Robert.’ When asked in his 99th year what he was going to do with the stories, he quipped – ‘If I live to 100, compile them into a book titled The First 100 Years Were the Hardest.’ 


Dr. Walter Hughes

Dr. Walter HughesWe are sad to announce the passing of Dr. Walter Hughes on April 26th. He was a member of the first class of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to graduate in 1952. This remembrance is provided by Francine A. Bradley, Ph.D., Extension Poultry Specialist Emerita.

Walter F. Hughes (far right in photo) was a proud native son of southern California, born January 27, 1922 in Santa Barbara. His parents had a small farm and Walt was a very active 4-H member, with projects in poultry and dairy. In 1940, Walt was one of the first 4 Californians to receive the prestigious 4-H Diamond Star award. 

In 1941, Walt began studies at the Agricultural College at Davis (now UC Davis). Just a few months later, the United States was at war. On Feb. 23, 1942, a Japanese submarine shelled the oil field at Elwood Ranch (just west of Santa Barbara) with artillery rounds landing in the pasture where he and his brothers had their dairy cows. Walt volunteered for Army Air Force Pilot Training.  

Lt. Walter Hughes became a B24 pilot. He flew out of Hardwick Airfield in Norfolk, England. The 35 missions that Walt and his crew flew over Germany, hitting the Nazi military infrastructure, helped the 93rd Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force turn the war toward Allied victory. He was recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Purple Heart. His military career gave Walt the most valuable gift. He met a wonderful WAAC, named Violet Sasso, fell in love, and married his life partner.

After his military duty, Walt returned to Davis is 1945. He wanted to start at Davis’ new School of Veterinary Medicine, but the war had delayed construction of the school.   So Walt began courses in Animal Husbandry. He completed his BS and some graduate classes before he was admitted to the very first class of the Vet School. To support his family while in vet school, Walt worked as a technician for some of the most famous names in poultry medicine: Adler, Bankowski, Yamamoto, and Zander.

Upon graduation in 1952, Dr. Hughes worked for a general practice in Lancaster, but in 1954 moved north to join “The Poultry Clinic” in Petaluma. Then in the summer of 1955, Dr. Hughes was appointed the Veterinary Laboratory Director for Kimber Farms (famous chicken breeding company in Niles, California). In 1971, he became Vice President of Operations at Fairview Farms, Olson Farms’ egg production division. 

During his career, Dr. Hughes made numerous and significant contributions to our understanding of poultry disease and poultry management. He was on the forefront of the fight against Marek’s Disease. With his staff at Kimber Farms, he produced the first licensed (state level) Marek’s vaccine in 1971. Walt  took rightful pride in his “three seminal concepts and inventions.”  They were: “All-in All-out Husbandry,” the “Performance Concept” (development of daily performance guides so producers could tell if their birds were performing as bred to perform), and Body Weight (the concept that pullet weight at 20 weeks of age was predictive of lifetime performance). 

Walter and Violet were fixtures at many Avian and Veterinary Conventions. Vi helping organize the golf tournaments and both of them generously supporting students and student activities. In 2003 Walt and Violet moved to the Big Island of Hawaii to live with their daughter, Trisha and Eddie Macomber. Walt would march every year in Hilo’s Veterans’ Day Parade, wearing his perfectly fitting uniform and delivering crisp salutes.  He was the 2018 Parade Grand Marshall. He also returned to California every year until 2018,  to be a docent for the Collings Foundation’s WWII bombers.