Bailey Award Recipients Encourage 2017 Graduates to Achieve, Have Courage, Give Back

Photo of Bailey Award Recipients
Recipients of the 2017 Wilford S. Bailey Award addressed the graduates during commencement May 9. Shown from left, Dr. Steven U. Walkley, Dr. W. David Gooslby, Dean Calvin Johnson, Dr. Roberta Relford and Dr. Dale R. Eckert.

The College of Veterinary Medicine awarded 119 professional DVM degrees during its 110th commencement on Tuesday, May 9, in ceremonies held at the Auburn Arena.  Additionally, 11 Masters of Science in Biomedical Science (thesis and non-thesis) were conferred and four candidates were awarded the Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Science.

Four alumni of the college received the Wilford S. Bailey Distinguished Alumni award, the highest award given by the college to alumni who have distinguished themselves professionally. The recipients individually addressed the graduates, each issuing their own words of encouragement and professional guidance:

Dr. Dale R. Eckert ’77 of Versailles, Ky., spoke about the medical and technological advances that have occurred in the veterinary profession over his career. His key message, however, was to give back something to the community that one serves.

“These technological and medical advances have enabled better care and better diagnostics,” he said. “But like a person in a row boat that looks backward to move forward, I challenge all members of this class to take a moment to look back. Consider the many influences on your accomplishments. None of us have accomplished this on our own. Wherever you go from here, give back something of yourselves to the community. By doing so, we make a difference.”

Dr. W. David Gooslby ‘82 Spartanburg, S.C., spoke about values.

“My parents taught my siblings and me the greatest values of faith, character, courage, love, and forgiveness,” Dr. Goolsby said. “Auburn has given you the skills you need to be a successful veterinarian. I encourage you to take those lessons as well as those values with you.”

Dr. Steven U. Walkley ‘76 South Salem, N.Y., spoke about mentoring and goals setting.

“Veterinary medicine and human medicine are intimately intertwined,” he said. “The role of veterinarians is prominent in the concept of one health and one medicine. Mentoring is a significant component of turning your lessons and training learned here into a career. Find a mentor, set goals and stick to them.”

Dr. Roberta Relford ‘82 of Argyle, Texas, who also served as the keynote commencement speaker, encouraged the graduates to have the courage to pursue opportunities.

“You will make a difference and you will have opportunities to make a difference in many different areas,” Dr. Relford said.

She spoke about four key lessons learned during her career: 1) listen 2) be flexible 3) be willing to collaborate and to seek opportunities for collaboration 4) and reach out to others.

“You have joined a very diverse and flourishing profession,” she added. “Have the courage to pursue opportunities when doors open.”

Dr. Harold Pate, president of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association, administered the Veterinarian’s Oath, and Dr. Walter Haines, Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association’s current president, brought greetings from the Commonwealth.

The 119-member DVM class includes 40 students from Alabama and 36 students from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The remaining 43 at-large students hail from 17 states, including California, Illinois, Washington, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Connecticut, South Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon, Arkansas, West Virginia, Texas, New Hampshire and Tennessee. One student is from Bandar, Mahshahar.

To date, the College of Veterinary Medicine has awarded 6,656 degrees.

About the Bailey Distinguished Alumni Recipients

Dr. Roberta Relford

After earning the DVM degree in 1982 from Auburn University, Dr. Relford worked as a small animal practitioner in Florida and later Tennessee for several years before pursuing advanced training. Her interest in diagnostics took her to Mississippi where she obtained a Master of Science degree in veterinary pathology. She completed residencies in pathology and internal medicine and earned her Ph.D. in veterinary pathology at Texas A&M University, and served there as a clinical assistant professor for more than nine years. She obtained board certification from both the American College of Veterinary Pathologists and the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. In 1996, Dr. Relford joined IDEXX Laboratories and was head of Pathology and Internal Medicine, where she and her team covered both national and global responsibilities. Her team of highly talented professionals was able to grow the pathology and the consultation service to more than 750,000 customer interactions per year.

Dr. Dale Eckert

A 1977 graduate of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Eckert is a proud Auburn/Kentucky veterinarian, serving his profession and the state of Kentucky through the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association (KVMA). He has served as the KVMA Executive Board Representative for the Central Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association and as chair of the Public Relations Committee, the By-Laws Committee, Mid-America Veterinary Conference Small Animal Program, and co-chair of the Mid-America Veterinary Conference Professional Development Committee. He was nominated by his peers as KVMA vice president and moved into the presidency in 1999. After leaving the KVMA Executive Board, Dr. Eckert continued to represent the KVMA through his service on numerous committees at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, including the Alumni Advisory Board, the Development team for fundraising for the Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital, and the KVMA/AU Student Class Task Force. In 2005, Dr. Eckert was presented the KVMA Distinguished Service Award, and in 2013, he was named the KVMA Veterinarian of the Year for his outstanding service to the veterinary profession and his community. He was appointed by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to serve on the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and continues to serve in that position.

Dr. Steven Walkley

Dr. Walkley earned a bachelor’s degree at Auburn University and then the DVM in 1976. He continued his education earning a Master of Science in Neurophysiology from the University of Edinburgh, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Doctor of Philosophy in Experimental Pathology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. Training in comparative medicine and neuroscience provided the basis for his career focus in neurogenetic disease, particularly those disorders impacting neuronal homeostatic mechanisms and resulting in intellectual disability and related neurobehavioral abnormalities. Diseases of his current focus include the lysosomal diseases Niemann-Pick types A and C, mucolipidosis IV, cystinosis, GM1 and GM2 gangliosidosis, Sanfilippo type A (MPS IIIA), Batten disorders (CLN2 and CLN3) and a endosomal disorder known as Christianson syndrome. Dr. Walkley’s contributions to the collective effort in characterizing cat models of the gangliosides laid the foundation on which decades of research have been built, and has been crucial to achieving the current historic stage of nearing clinical human trials of a gene therapy for these incurable diseases by scientists at the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Scott-Ritchey Research Center.

Dr. David Goolsby

After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Auburn University, Dr. Goolsby earned the DVM from the College of Veterinary Medicine in 1982, and was commissioned in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. His assignments took him around the world, representing the veterinary field on a variety of fronts: establishing a food hygiene program, planning medical training exercises, conducting a hog cholera vaccination program, establishing a food safety and animal medical/zoonotic disease program, and providing animal medical and food safety support for multiple military bases. Dr. Goolsby was assigned to the U.S. Army Office of the Surgeon General, where he had the opportunity to develop guidelines and policies on food safety effecting the U.S. military worldwide. He was appointed as the Department of Defense representative to the National Committee of Microbiological Critieria for Foods, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture requested his service on the task force that published the “Future of Food Safety and Inspection Service Veterinarians for the Twenty-First Century” report. Following retirement, Dr. Goolsby entered the civilian world of public health practice, serving the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control as director of Public Health for Appalachia District III and later Director of South Carolina Public Health Region 2.

The prestigious award is the highest honor given to an alumnus of the College of Veterinary Medicine and is named to honor the late Wilford S. Bailey, who held a 50-year continuous faculty appointment at Auburn, serving in positions ranging from instructor to University President. A 1942 graduate of the college, Bailey was the first recipient of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine Distinguished Alumnus Award. Following his death in 2000, it was named in Dr. Bailey’s memory. The Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital opened in 2014.


  Mitch Emmons (