Wildlife Veterinarian couple killed in car accident
Auto accident claims lives of renowned husband/wife wildlife veterinarians Tom Thorne and Elizabeth Williams
by Wyoming Game & Fish Department
December 30, 2004
Renowned wildlife veterinarian and 36-year Wyoming Game and Fish Department veteran Tom Thorne and his wife, Elizabeth Williams, pathologist at the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory and University of Wyoming professor died as a result of a car wreck last night, December 29th, around 11 p.m. The accident occurred in northern Colorado. The couple was heading to their Laramie home from Denver International Airport after returning from a Caribbean vacation. Thorne was 64. Williams was 53.
"Itís hard for me to find the words to describe how tragic Tomís and Bethís deaths are to the Game and Fish (Department) family," said Terry Cleveland, G&F director. "In essence, Tom Ďwrote the bookí on being a wildlife veterinarian and he was recognized nationally and internationally for his expertise in wildlife disease management. Professionally, itís an international loss to the wildlife field and a heart-breaking tragedy personally."
After 36 years of service, Thorne, who was as much at home wrestling a netted bighorn ram down to draw blood as he was explaining wildlife diseases to policy makers, the media and other publics, retired March 10, 2003 from the G&F.
Thorne began his G&F career as the departmentís veterinarian stationed in Laramie. For 29 years he was responsible for supervising the G&Fís wildlife research projects and providing on-site veterinary help with wildlife trapping and relocation projects. In August 1996, he was promoted to be the Serviceís Division assistant chief and was promoted to be the divisionís chief in October 1999. In May 2002, Gov. Jim Geringer named him acting G&F director after John Baughmanís resignation. Thorne served as acting director until March 2003. Shortly after his official retirement, he rejoined the G&F as a wildlife disease consultant.
Thorne was a prominent expert on brucellosis, chronic wasting disease and other wildlife diseases. He also co-authored the book Diseases of Wildlife In Wyoming. His work with Dubois area bighorn sheep was widely acclaimed and, in the late 1980s he led the veterinary team that solved the mystery of successfully breeding black-footed ferrets in captivity.
A native of Oklahoma City, he earned a bachelorís degree in zoology and his doctorate in veterinary medicine from Oklahoma State University with the express goal of being a wildlife veterinarian. His boyhood love was amphibians and reptiles. He had a keen appreciation and respect for rattlesnakes and he and Williams had a pet king snake, in addition to an aviary in their house and two cats.
"He was a wonderful mentor and very humble man," said Becky Russell, of the G&F Laboratory who served as Thorneís assistant for many years. "The neatest thing about Tom was he never took the credit. He always gave the credit to his co-workers."
When Thorne retired he said, "The privilege of working with the great Game and Fish folks is the number one thing Iíll think of, looking back on my career."
Thorne has served as vice president of the Wildlife Disease Association and chairman of the Advisory Council for the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians and chairman of the U.S. Animal Health Associationís Wildlife Diseases Committee. Thorne was active in the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies serving on the Fish and Wildlife Health Committee and the Animal Use Issues Committee.
"Itís just a terrible tragedy," said John Baughman, IAFWA executive vice president and former G&F director. "Tom and Beth were two of the great professionals in wildlife medicine. Tom excelled at everything he did at the Game and Fish Department, from wildlife veterinarian to administrator. They will both be missed dearly in the wildlife community."
Regionally, Thorne had been a cornerstone of the Greater Yellowstone Interagency Brucellosis Committee and served on the Wyoming Governorís Brucellosis Coordination Team.
Thorne belonged to the American Veterinary Medicine Association and the Wyoming Veterinary Medicine Association, the Wyoming and National Wildlife Societies, and the Wildlife Disease Association.
Thorne has been an author and contributing author of many articles in veterinary and wildlife journals.
In 1988, he was honored as Conservationist of the Year by the Wyoming Wildlife Federation for engineering the first successful black-footed ferret captive breeding program. That year he also received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep for his work with Wyoming bighorn sheep.
As Wyomingís veterinary pathologist, Williams was the first to identify chronic wasting disease and was one of the worldís foremost experts on this disease of deer and elk. She worked closely with the G&F on wildlife disease testing and facilitated a close relationship between the G&F and state veterinary laboratory.
"Beth and her staff routinely provided expert assistance to the Game and Fish (Department) whenever a wildlife disease issue demanded their attention," Cleveland said.
She earned a bachelorís degree in zoology from the University of Maryland in 1972 and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Purdue University in 1977. She then earned a doctorate in veterinary pathology from Colorado State University. She had been a UW professor since July 1982.
Among her numerous awards, in 1994 she was honored as College of Agriculture Outstanding Classroom Teacher and as the U.S. West Outstanding Teacher for UW. In 1999, she received the Wyoming Game Wardenís Associationís "Outstanding Assistance to Wildlife Law Enforcement" award.
Services for the pair are pending.