Memorial scholarship honoring much-loved rural veterinarian will assist veterinary students from rural areas
The red truck rolled over hilly highways and dirt paths, hauling love for animals and people alike.
“His passion was getting in his red truck, and going out to wherever to do a farm call, to take care of a sick cow, a horse, a sheep, or a goat,“ Barbara Blevins said of her brother, Bill W. "Doc" Fuller ’88, DVM ’97, who was a Southwest Virginia mixed animal practice veterinarian and is the namesake of a new memorial scholarship fund for rural veterinarians.
The Dr. Bill W. (Doc) Fuller Veterinary Scholarship has been established by Barbara Blevins and her husband, Marty, with an initial gift of $100,000, which includes contributions from friends, family, clients, and colleagues. Additional donations can be made to the Fuller scholarship fund by writing a check to Virginia Tech Foundation, mailing it to VMCVM; 215 Duck Pond Drive; Blacksburg, VA 24061, with “Doc Fuller Scholarship” written on the check memo line.
Gate City, Virginia, became known to the world earlier this year when native Mac McClung donned his high school uniform and won the NBA Slam Dunk contest. It was also where Fuller, who died in December at age 56, called home, graduating high school there and setting up his practice in the Scott County town. The scholarship that bears his name reflects those rural roots.
Managed by the Virginia Tech Foundation, the scholarship will support third- and fourth-year veterinary students who have demonstrated financial need and are residents of rural areas.
First preference will be given to students who are in the Food Animal Medicine track. If there are no eligible students on that track, Mixed Animal Species track students will be considered. Additional preference will be given to students from Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia, in that order.
Fuller earned his undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech and a master’s degree at the University of Tennessee before returning to Virginia Tech for his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Over the years, he mentored many veterinary students, from the veterinary college and elsewhere.
“When he had a student, he was all in with that student,” Blevins said. “He participated in every aspect of their training and truly cared about them as people. I don't know if he ever missed a graduation. If they got married, if humanly possible, he was there for them at the ceremony. Because those kids, those young adults were so important to him.”
Shawnna Melick, a 2020 animal and poultry sciences graduate from Virginia Tech who is now in her third year studying for a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Lincoln Memorial University in northeastern Tennessee, was one of Fuller’s young proteges.
“I first met Doc Fuller when I walked into his clinic many years ago as an eager high schooler hoping to gain veterinary experience,” Melick said. “Most clinics would have been hesitant to take someone so young under their wing, but Doc and his staff were the exception. From that very first day, Doc became my mentor, a father-figure, and a friend. … Doc saw us as future colleagues with the utmost potential.”
Melick, from Kingsport, Tennessee, said the scholarship will carry on Fuller’s desire to help aspiring veterinarians financially.
“We stopped at the local drive-in for some burgers and fries,” Melick said. “I offered to pay him back for my portion, but Doc declined, as he always did. He said all he asked of me was that someday, I would do the same for another student when I was in his shoes, to aid in making the difficult journey of becoming a veterinarian less strenuous.
“Doc knew that, along with being challenging both mentally and emotionally, obtaining a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine degree is also a huge financial burden. Whether it was buying me a burger or a new stethoscope, Doc did all that he could to help me minimize my debt. I strongly believe that this scholarship will help do just that for other ambitious future doctors.”
Fuller loved treating dogs and cats at his clinic, but his deeper passion was always the large animals such as the horses, cows, goats, and sheep that dot the rolling pastures between sharp ridges in the rugged countryside of Southwest Virginia, northeast Tennessee and northwest North Carolina.
And Fuller’s love extended beyond the animals to the people who cared for those animals.
“When he left his clients, many told me he would always say ‘I love ya,’” Blevins said. “But the love was two ways. Just as he loved them and their animals, they each loved, admired and respected him. He was family to them. They loved him so much.”