In the early 1940s, John Gorham ’46 DVM, MS ’47 left his family home in Sumner to attend Washington State College as an undergraduate. He found a life here, marrying fellow student Mary Ellen Martin and staying on to earn his doctorate in veterinary medicine, at the same time serving in the U.S. Army. In 1948, he was the first student to earn a graduate degree from the veterinary college.
He then took a position as a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher in 1949 and the next year made his first big contribution to the field of animal disease research with his major professor Donald Cordy. They discovered the microorganism that causes salmon poisoning, a fatal dog disease. He also soon after discovered a cat disease that could be avoided by including vitamin E in the feline diet.
Gorham spent his career in Pullman, though he left briefly in the 1950s to complete a doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin. As much a historian as part of the University’s history, Gorham was full of stories. Among his favorites were those of the campus he remembered as an undergraduate, where the animal facilities weren’t far from where the English classes were held, and that studies of Shakespeare could be interrupted by the squeals of pigs nearby.
Over nearly 70 years, Gorham watched the college develop from a small veterinary school into a major animal disease research institution. His own contributions included research into both parasitic and viral diseases affecting livestock and fur animals. He was one of the first to establish animal models for human diseases. In 1991, Gorham received some unwanted attention after someone broke into his office and two research sites on campus. Some of his documents and records were destroyed. According to the Animal Liberation Front, Gorham was targeted because of his work with mink, which benefited the fur industry.
The setback did not keep Gorham from his research. For the next two decades, Gorham continued to work and make regular visits to his office on campus. In 1993, he was recognized with the WSU Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award, and in 2007, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Gorham, who died October 14, 2011, at the age of 89, is survived by his wife, his son Jay Gorham ’73, daughter Katherine Ellen Gorham MA ’79, and two granddaughters.