Mural by son of 1975 alumnus makes whimsical welcome to visitors
Alumni leave their mark on the College of Veterinary Medicine in many ways, but Dr. Jerry Eskridge’s imprint on the renovated Pet Health Center on Classic Campus is a particularly colorful one. A flash flood in January forced the PHC – the college’s only small animal first-opinion practice – to relocate to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital while renovations were done.
Dr. Sara Gonzalez, clinical assistant professor of community practice and section head for the clinic, said the repair project offered an opportunity to refresh the clinic and improve the client experience.
“As a primary care veterinary clinic, most of our patients and clients visit on a consistent basis for their wellness and minor illness care,” Gonzalez said. “At their next visit, they can expect to see an updated lobby and exam rooms with new furniture and floors, as well as some design touches to make our space feel more modern and comfortable.”
Before the center reopened to the public in May, a lobby mural painted by Will Eskridge, the youngest son of Dr. Jerry Eskridge, DVM Class of 1975, put a whimsical touch on the updated space. Although he didn’t follow in his father’s professional footsteps, Will’s work as an artist was influenced by Jerry Eskridge’s career choice just the same.
Jerry Eskridge grew up in Shelby, N.C., roughly half-way between Asheville and Charlotte, and earned his undergraduate degree in Industrial Relations from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He went to work in management at a local textile mill, but soon felt called to the veterinary field. He was in his late 20s with a wife and young daughter. His wife, Lynn, embraced the career change wholeheartedly – working as a waitress to support the family while Jerry was in school.
After completing his premed work at North Carolina State, Jerry Eskridge was accepted in UGA’s CVM. The family relocated to Athens, where Will’s older brother, Rame, was born on his father’s first day of school.
Two years after graduation, Eskridge started Kings Mountain Animal Hospital. He was the epitome of the country doctor there for 40 years, Will said, holding the line on $8 rabies vaccinations long after other practices started raising their prices. Every pet the family had was a stray or abandoned animal Jerry Eskridge took in through his practice, and that fostered Will’s love of the outcast animal. He paints pet portraits but also vivid, lively and incongruous portraits of raccoons, opossums, bats and alligators with cherry pie, ice cream sandwiches, popcorn and choco-tacos.
The elder Eskridge gradually curtailed his activities as he got older but didn’t fully retire until age 80 in 2019.
“It was a challenge getting him to retire. He loved it. He clearly loved the science of it and I think that was his social outlet. He didn’t really hang out a lot but I think he enjoyed seeing people and talking to people to that degree,” Will said.
“He got a little bit of a late start (in his career). That’s why he worked so long,” Will Eskridge said.
Eskridge died at age 83 in February of 2022, months before Will received the commission to paint the PHC mural. “That’s why I was happy to get this all worked out,” Will said of the job. “I wish he was still here to see it.”