Mark Strother (’83 DVM) was a skilled mountaineer who had his sights set on summiting the tallest peaks on the globe. He had recently graduated from Washington State University, married, and purchased a small animal practice in western Washington.
But, in 1986, on a fateful climb to Mount Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies, Strother and his climbing partner’s tracks stopped just 100 feet from the summit.
Not long after his death, his family established the Dr. Mark Strother Endowed Scholarship to honor his legacy and to support veterinary students. Thirty-five years later, the fund is still helping Cougs achieve their dreams.
From an early age, two things were clear about Strother: he had a deep love for animals, and there was no keeping him away from the mountains.
As a teenager, his friends and family remember, he would bike to a nearby veterinary clinic in his hometown of Yakima to volunteer. When he wasn’t at the clinic or school, his golden retriever, Sampson, was likely in tow.
“It was amazing to watch them because Sam hung on every motion Mark made,” Strother’s friend Jim Lundblad says. “Mark truly loved that dog.”
Strother was a driven and committed student and had his heart set on becoming a veterinarian, but he also was determined to conquer the outdoors, mountain by mountain.
His passion for the outdoors was shared by his close friends, Steve Soos (’81 Math.) and Lundblad. The trio spent nearly every weekend in the summers hiking, rock climbing, and summiting area peaks before Soos and Strother graduated high school in 1976 and headed to WSU.
Shortly after graduation, Strother married his wife, Susan (’79 Ani. Sci., ’82 MS Vet. Sci., ’83 DVM). After completing residencies in California, the couple returned to Washington, where they purchased a small animal clinic in Monroe.
Nancy Strother, Mark’s sister, remembers how dedicated her younger brother was to his clients and patients.
“Mark had a real love for animals,” she says.
Early in the summer of 1986, he began making plans to climb the 12,972-foot Mount Robson and approached Soos about joining the expedition.
“It is an impressive mountain, notorious for its weather,” Soos says. “There really isn’t any easy way up that mountain, and I told him I wasn’t in any shape to do it.”
Strother eventually found a climbing partner, Ken Nelson, an experienced 42-year-old mountaineer.
The day before he was to leave for Canada, Strother sat down for dinner with his wife and Lundblad, who had just flown in from New York City where he was attending medical school.
“My plan had been to surprise him and go on a couple of local climbs because I hadn’t been doing much climbing,” Lundblad says. “He asked me to join him on his climb of Mount Robson, but there was no way I was in any kind of condition to do that.”
The friends made an agreement to get together when Strother returned from his climb, but that gathering never happened, as Strother died on the mountain. The cause of the fall that ended his life was never determined.
“It is pure conjecture on my part, but as strong of climbers as they both were, it was some objective hazard they had no control over,” Soos says. “On that side of the mountain, if you get pulled down, it is a 60-degree slope. There is no chance for survival.”
Soon after Strother’s death, his family established the scholarship in his name. Recipients must show substantial compassion for people and their animals and have an interest in practicing small-animal medicine. It has been awarded to more than 30 third-year students, including James Schmidt (’21 DVM) in 2020.
Strother also had a lasting impact on those who knew him.
“I think about him pretty much every day,” says Lundblad, now 62 and semi-retired from a career in medicine. “In a lot of ways, he was as close as one of my brothers to me.”
Soos, too, often thinks of his friend and has made a personal commitment to donate yearly to Strother’s scholarship.
“He had such an impact on me and others,” Soos says. “If I could talk to him again, I would say, ‘We wish you were still here to enjoy the love of family, friendships, and the warmth of the autumn sun. We miss you. The memory of the life you lived has given strength and purpose to others.’”