Longtime health commissioner retires


Dr. Robert G. Vanzant, DVM, retired from the role of Health Commissioner at Fayette County Public Health on Dec. 31, 2022, following 40 years of public service. He was celebrated by staff, board members, and family at a recent retirement party held in his honor.

“Now that I have retired from the position of Fayette County Health Commissioner, I will be able to concentrate more on my veterinary practice which I want to continue doing as long as mother nature and my health permits,” said Dr. Vanzant. “ I will turn 80 on my next birthday, January 2, 2023.”

Dr. VanZant’s four decades with the health district began in 1982, shortly after he opened his veterinary practice across the street from Morrow Funeral Home. He was invited to apply for an upcoming vacancy by funeral director David Morrow, a longtime member of the board of health. He took over the position after spending a few months with the former health commissioner, Dr. William E. Covert, who was also a veterinarian.

“Here in Fayette County,” Dr. Vanzant said, “we have a combined General Health District. According to the Ohio Revised Code, the position of health commissioner can be held by someone who has the degree of MPH, MD, DO, DDS, POD, and, of course, DVM.”

While the relationship between veterinary medicine and public health may not be immediately apparent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have long recognized that research in veterinary science is critical to understanding and improving human health.

“Between animal and human medicine there are no dividing lines—-nor should there be. The object is different but the experience obtained constitutes the basis of all medicine,” stated Rudolph Virchow, known as the father of modern pathology.

Dr. Vanzant shared that “The health and safety of the community in which one lives are important not only for those who might serve directly in public health but also those who become veterinarians and continue to work, in many ways, by promoting the health of the public by vaccination programs, many of which help to prevent zoonotic diseases which can be contracted by humans as well as animals.”

“Also, many veterinarians work in assuring our foods are clean and pure, as many worked in the field as well (e.g. meat inspectors) to make sure the animals were healthy and disease free before going to the processing plants.”

While Dr. Vanzant’s role has included local guidance and oversight, the role of health commissioner has also given him the opportunity to bring a local voice to the state.

“By becoming health commissioner, I became a member of the Association of Ohio Health Commissioners or the AOHC,” he noted. “As the voice of local public health in Ohio, AOHC is working to strengthen the state’s public health system to protect our citizens against the disease threats of today, and promote a vision for the future of healthy people in healthy Ohio communities.”

“Through this organization, we have a much greater voice in the workings of our state government and that is often the way favorable changes can be made at the local levels,” Vanzant noted.

Dr. Vanzant graduated from Whiteoak High School in Mowrystown in 1961 from a class of 20 people prior to serving in the United States Air Force from 1962-1965. He was stationed at Wheeler Air Force Base in Hawaii and Bien Hoa in Vietnam and his job was crash rescue. Upon returning home, he married the former Betty Carol Bohl on December 18, 1965. The couple has three daughters, Lori, Joan, and Valerie.

He is a 1969 graduate of the Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition from the Agriculture College and he completed his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1973.

Dr. Vanzant began his career as a veterinarian in 1973 in a mixed practice at Colonial Animal Hospital in Hillsboro, Ohio. From 1974-1982, he served as the sole practitioner at Marysville Animal Hospital. He has been the sole practitioner at Court Street Animal Hospital, from 1982-Present, and has served as health commissioner in addition to his primary career as a veterinarian.

“I worked with a vet for a while out of high school and fell in love with the profession whether we were on the farm or treating dogs and cats in the evening,” he said.

“However, farm animals are often the sole source of income for the entire family so if we had an emergency from a farmer that could mean life or death for one of the animals, we often would leave during office hours and reschedule our small animal clients.”

In between his roles as a veterinarian and health commissioner, Dr. Vanzant has enjoyed hobbies such as flying, golf, restoring an old house to a veterinary practice and residence, and photography. Of these, he shared, “only photography and computer work have survived (as hobbies).”

“I do want to make it clear that I am retiring from the health department ONLY and I will continue working in my veterinary practice, as always,” said Dr. Vanzant.

The staff and board of Fayette County Public Health wish Dr. Vanzant a very happy retirement.

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