update March 11, 2019
Michael D. McElvaine, DVM, MPH, DACVPM
Michael was a dear friend, mentor, colleague and neighbor. He greeted you with a smile that instantly uplifted your spirits and calmed your cares. When we first met, it seemed like we had always been friends. Our personal and professional lives crossed many times over the years, and I will cherish those memories and will greatly miss Michael.
On behalf of Michael’s many friends, professional colleagues, neighbors, community activists, and all who benefited from his life’s work, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the family for the parting of Michael, your son, brother, and uncle.
I appreciate the invitation to reflect on some of Michael’s many accomplishments that had a profound impact on us individually, our profession, and our community.
– Chip Wells
Michael cherished his roots, speaking of the family farm in Illinois and sharing about his visit to the McElvaine clan ancestral estate, Thomaston Castle in Scotland. Having descended from the original farmer settlers of Illinois, Michael chose to follow a career in veterinary medicine and public health.
Michael received his undergraduate and veterinary degrees from the University of Illinois, earning a Bachelor of Science (BS) in biology in 1973, a BS in veterinary science in 1974, and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1976. He later received his Masters Degree in Public Health (MPH) from the University of Minnesota in 1987. From 1976-1985, he practiced veterinary medicine in Kentucky and Wisconsin focusing primarily on small animal practice with part of his time doing equine and dairy practice.
Dr. McElvaine began his federal service in 1987 working with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Iowa as a biologics epidemiologist. In 1989, he began a 2-year fellowship in Atlanta at the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer. While there Michael served as an epidemiologist with the Childhood Lead Prevention Program. His research included investigations with the Chicago Department of Health and the St. Louis Department of Health. Michael’s work with both of these studies was published in leading medical journals.
After completing his assignment at CDC in 1992, he joined the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Washington DC. The idea of risk assessment methods being applied to biological systems was in its infancy at this time. Michael and his colleagues focused on development of methodologies using risk assessment for animal and plant disease, and foodborne disease in humans. He published widely in international scientific journals on risk assessment topics and presented his work at national and international meetings.
In 1992 in recognition of his professional expertise, Michael was inducted as a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Preventative Medicine.
Michael joined the staff of the USDA Office of Risk Assessment and Cost-Benefit Analysis in 1996, and was later promoted to Deputy Director where he served until his retirement in 2010. He was responsible for reviewing major USDA regulations involving food safety, animal health and the environment, including some of the federal government’s landmark food safety legislation that has served as a model worldwide.
Michael’s background in veterinary medicine, public health, environmental health and risk assessment gave him a good basis to perform his responsibilities. He was recognized as a leader and expert in his field within the federal government and the profession. He provided expertise on risk assessment and public health issues to multiple federal agencies, including the USDA, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency. He was a founder and first president of the Society for Risk Analysis, Food Safety Risk Specialty Group.
Michael recognized and nurtured the potential in others. He had a keen interest in helping advance the careers of his colleagues, taking a special interest in the projects with which they were involved. At USDA he mentored interns and fellows from veterinary colleges, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He advised and helped them develop their projects to fruition, including Stephanie Wong’s project Healthy People, Healthy Pets that was presented at World AIDS Conferences in Geneva, Switzerland in 1998 and again in Durban, South Africa in 2000. The CDC adopted this project as a national program.
Michael’s impact extended beyond his professional endeavors. He became an activist for lesbian and gay issues, especially in the workplace. This interest began when he joined the Madison Gay Men’s’ Chorale (MGMC) in 1984 and he attended the first national festival of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA). The first performance of the MGMC was on the first night of the festival. Michael later described the rousing applause and ovation from those attending in Alice Tully Hall that night to be a significant event in his life. He continued to participate in GALA choruses, including the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. The chorus experience was the impetus for him to seek further roles in the LGBT community.
Michael was a LGBT pioneer advocate and in 1994 became the founding president of the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association (LGVMA, currently known as Pride Veterinary Medical Community) in 1994. Because of this, he had his picture published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, which publicly identified him as gay! In Michael’s own words, “There was no turning back…after that.” Michael was the first ‘out’ gay man to speak at the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Convention, Diversity Symposium, held in Washington, DC in 2007. He continued to remain active with LGVMA, serving on the board of directors through 2008.
Michael was a founding member of the USDA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Employee organization (GLOBE, currently known as Equality USDA) and served as its president in 2000 and 2001. In this role he was frequently spokesmen for the organization and often met with administration officials. Michael said that one of his proudest moments was the 2000 Pride Month Celebration at USDA that was keynoted by Secretary Dan Glickman and Congressman Barney Frank. Michael was appointed as a charter member of the newly created Secretary’s Gay and Lesbian Employee Advisory Committee in 2001, where he served for many years.
Michael spoke of his long interest in music, both performing and listening. He had introductory piano lessons at five and started regular piano lessons at age ten. He claimed he was never a virtuoso but enjoyed playing for himself. Michael was active in choral areas all of his life: school plays, music contests, choruses, singing groups including the University of Illinois Varsity Men’s Glee Club and the Young Illini.
Michael always had a strong interest in science. He wrote that from an early age he explored his local environment in order to try and figure out how things worked. Related to this, he also gardened through much of his life. It was his love for science that led Michael to his professional life.
Michael remained single although, by his own admission, not thru lack of trying. In addition to his family, he was blessed with several close friends who provided the love and support he needed. He also maintained a long string of cats that were his closest companions. Michael was an active supporter and volunteered with PETS-DC. Michael believed enthusiastically in the human animal bond and its beneficial effects on both the partners.
Some reflections by Michael’s friends and colleagues
“Michael was a pioneer in the use of risk analyses for regulatory reviews at USDA, FDA and CDC. His skills at organizing and networking kept him at the center of many risk-related federal committees and task forces. He was also one of the people you needed to see before embarking on a new project because invariably he already had contacts and could succinctly provide context.
One of his skills that was not widely known outside of [our office] was his proofreading and editing ability. He always provided excellent suggestions and had the knack for reorganizing text so that it was more impactful.
And in addition to all this, he was an excellent colleague, always willing to help you with your work or talk through a particularly difficult negotiation on the road to consensus in a committee or revision of a regulatory document by an agency. He was a good friend and mentor. I miss him and his perspective on risk analysis and life.”
– Linda Abbott, Director of USDA, Office of Risk Assessment and Cost Benefit Analysis
“Even as I write this word by his name I am saddened again to think of so bright a spirit quelled so early. Michael was a bright hardworking creative and loyal employee. We were together from the time he left CDC until I left Washington. His hard work and dedication was integral in launching risk assessment in APHIS and ultimately in the success of [our office]. But putting aside professional successes Michael was a dear and treasured friend. He made sure I took time out to see the cherry blossoms each spring and took time out for lunch at least once a week! He was a loyal guardian both personally and professionally. Michael was just a unique and special person who left us far too early. I miss him still and will to my last day. Love to Michael.”
– Nell Ahl, (retired) former founding Director of USDA, Office of Risk Assessment and Cost Benefit Analysis
“On a hot, muggy day in D.C., I was awkwardly wearing high heels to my first day as a summer veterinary intern at the USDA. I did not know it at the time, but I was about to meet the friend who 1) would tell me I didn’t need to wear high heels, and 2) would turn me into a lifelong ambassador of health for all – pets and people. Michael, with his warm smile and unabashed enthusiasm, created a culture of comfort and opened his network of friends and colleagues – Ken Gorczyca, Ilana Strubel, and others. Together, we built and grew an education program that keeps people and their pets together and healthy. Our Healthy Pets, Healthy People program is still strong and going at the CDC and continues to help people – and their animal companions – every day. Thank you, Michael, for teaching me the importance of compassion and grit. One…big…hug. Love, Steph!”
– Stephanie Wong (now Venn-Watson), former USDA veterinary intern
“I first met Michael at the inaugural meeting for LGBT veterinarians during the 1993 LGBT March on Washington. By the following July at the AVMA convention in Minneapolis, Michael became the founding president of the LGVMA. He led the organization for multiple terms through 2008. Michael helped LGVMA create a veterinary student scholarship program, which in his honor, has been renamed as the Dr. Michael McElvaine LGBT Veterinary Student Scholarship Program.
One of Michael’s biggest initiatives was to mentor Dr. Stephanie Wong with her Healthy Pets, Healthy People Project… Millions of immunosuppressive pet owners worldwide benefited from the knowledge that the human-animal bond was a powerful medicine… The veterinary profession, LGBT community, HIV community, public health and each of Michael’s colleagues and friends benefited greatly from his wisdom and presence.”
– Ken Gorczyca, Founding Veterinarian of PAWS and LGVMA
“Michael was a tremendous friend and colleague. I first met Michael while I was working on my postdoc and on loan to FSIS back in 1995. He was such a brilliant mind that I immediately came to rely on him for input on work-related issues. He took it on himself to mentor me early in my DC days and was always a great sounding board, not only for technical issues but also interpersonal or the ever present DC political issues.
When I had to move to DC ahead of my family, he (and Sue Ferenc) became my DC family and that really helped ease the separation from Peter and the kids. I always appreciated his loyalty and honesty. But he was also a lot of fun. One of my best memories is finishing up a particularly tough workday and, on Michael’s suggestion, heading over to the tidal basin during peak cherry blossom season where we sat over the edge of the water, shelling and snacking on steamed shrimp while quietly soaking in the beauty of it all. He was a true and empathetic friend. Following an urgent call about my then 6-year old son, Michael and Sue packed up my room and checked me out of my hotel so I could make it on time for the emergency appendectomy. A few days later, a child-size pair of jungle bongos arrived at the hospital for my son and I received frequent phone calls at the hospital frequently during the 11-day stay to check up on my son’s condition, but without saying it, to also check in on how I was holding up.
I admired Michael so much in so many ways. He was an excellent epidemiologist and well-respected in his field… Not only was he one of the smartest people I have ever known (he could do a New York Times crossword puzzle in 5 minutes, maybe 10 for the Sunday crossword), but also he was so multitalented…. He had a beautifully rich voice and the Gay Men’s Chorus performances were always so wonderful. He volunteered for the Democratic Party…and would handwrite responses to letters from the public sent to the White House… He was a strong professional advocate for members of the LGBT community, ensuring that he did everything possible to introduce diversity into the workplace.
Years later, Michael, Sue and I got together when he was already struggling with his health. On the first of those occasions, he excitedly greeted us saying we were like the Golden Girls! Michael had his challenges – his illnesses – but he was a beautiful person inside and out. He loved deeply but was often too shy to show it, always trying to maintain decorum, until you assaulted him with a big hug (which Sue and I did often) or put your arm around him and gave him a squeeze … then you could feel him just melt into you – this genuine appreciation for and response to affection may be my most fond memory of him. Michael was a gem of a human being – intelligent, knowledgeable about so many things, a true agent of social change, and a kind lovely human being who could always teach you new things or make you laugh.”
– Roberta A. Morales, USDA APHIS Veterinary Services
These reflections recap just some of Michael’s accomplishments, and barely scratch the surface to describe his impact on our lives. But it is but a start to our collective sharing of cherished memories of Michael D. McElvaine, for whom we all are better for having known.
Rest in peace Michael.
It is with great sadness that we let you all know that our Michael D. McElvaine, DVM, MPH, DACVPM passed away on October 20 after a long illness. He retired in February 2010. He recently was living near Springfield, MO close to his brother and family. Michael was born on April 3, 1951 in Avon, Illinois. He was descended from the original farmer settlers of Illinois. Michael graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine in Illinois in 1976 and practiced veterinary medicine for eight years in Kentucky and Wisconsin. He returned to school at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health where he received his MPH in 1987 before joining the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a veterinary medical officer with the biologics program in Iowa. In 1989, he began a 2-year fellowship at the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an Epidemic Intelligence Officer. After completing his term at CDC, he returned to USDA with the Risk Assessment Systems at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in Washington, DC, and later with USDA Office of Risk Assessment and Cost-Benefit Analysis (ORACBA) until his retirement.
Dr. McElvaine was a LGBT pioneer advocate and became the founding President of the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association (LGVMA) in 1994 and served on the board through 2008. He was also a pioneer with pet-associated zoonoses education for people with AIDS and he mentored veterinary students who initiated the Health Pets, Healthy People project which was presented at the World AIDS Conferences in 1998 and 2000. This project is now part of the Center for Disease Control’s website www.cdc.gov/HealthyPets.
Dr. McElvaine was the first ‘out’ gay man to be invited to speak at the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Convention. During the Diversity Symposium held in Washington, DC in 2007, he proudly shared his presentation, “Reaching a Broader Client Base: How to Make Your Practice More Attractive to the GLBT Community.” He also helped to lead the USDA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Employee organization (currently Equality USDA ) through the Bush administration and served on the Secretary’s Gay and Lesbian Employee Advisory Committee. Dr. McElvaine’s wisdom and leadership rippled across the veterinary and public health profession, the USDA and the world.
Michael was also an active supporter of PETS-DC and the Gay Men’s Chorus while he lived in Washington, DC. We will miss you, dear friend, colleague, mentor and proud gay veterinarian role model who dared to be his authentic self.
Michael’s family suggested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Michael’s memory to his favorite charities, the Pride Veterinary Medical Community (formerly the LGVMA), PETS-DC, and the Gay Mens’ Chorus of Washington DC.