When Dr. John McCormack retired from UGA in 1996, the major life event opened the door to a new career. Instead of being a full-time large animal veterinarian and academic who enjoyed writing columns on the side, McCormack became a novelist who drew upon his experiences as a veterinarian to pen longer tales for his growing legion of fans.
From writing about serving as the first veterinarian in Choctaw County, Alabama, to carting his kids up and down winding country roads in his pickup truck during farm calls, McCormack weaves tales of deep devotion to his craft and family, with strokes of humor and heart. He found his penchant for storytelling early on in his veterinary career and began writing humorous stories and columns for Hoard’s Dairyman magazine and other livestock and veterinary journals. In the late 1980s, Hoard’s released two paperback compilations of his popular columns: “Watch for a Cloud of Dust,” volumes I and II. By 1995, McCormack was publishing his first hardback, “Fields and Pastures New.”
That first novel, which tells of his first year as a country veterinarian in Choctaw County, was excerpted by Readers Digest and translated into 64 languages! And his other books, written at his home in Athens, where he still resides with his wife Jan, have been published outside the U.S. in the Netherlands, China, Russia and beyond.
Being a veterinarian “paid us in ways we didn’t know possible,” McCormack shared with us when we talked to him about his career for this story. “I was a loved, trusted, respected part of the community. The look on grateful clients’ faces was just extraordinary.”
His last novel was written in 2009, but remains unpublished. Now 81, McCormack writes poetry for fun and routinely shares his poems with friends and family. Even his poems resound the familiar themes that have inspired his writings for decades: fun tales of animals (especially cows), people, and life in general.
His narrations and tenure as a teacher pivot around the same point: sincerity, devotion to relationships and career, and a dash of humor will go a long way.
“Take it easy and don’t get riled all the time,” he advised, when we talked to him. “And get a sense of humor!” he added with a chuckle.
Alumni who studied under Dr. McCormack might recall him as the professor with a passion for moon pies. After he wrote an article about the art of eating a moon pie while driving, a distributor learned of his story and delivered cases of the graham cracker and marshmallow treats to his house. McCormack set up a cardboard gas station-style display case outside his office and kept it stocked for bleary-eyed students and colleagues in need of a snack. And if he caught you nodding off in his class, he’d throw a moon pie at you. Popular with students, McCormack was asked to give a few commencement addresses throughout his career—and would find himself showered in moon pies, tossed onstage by the graduating class, as he ascended the stage to give his address.
McCormack’s love of life and career has rewarded him over and over again through the years. He received “Most Outstanding Clinician” awards from both UGA (in 1992) and the University of California, Davis (in 1981), where he taught from 1980 through 1981. The Georgia Cattlemen’s Association named him “Veterinarian of the Year” for 1994. And Omega Tau Sigma’s UGA chapter presented him with the Fred Davison Award in 1995.
McCormack grew up on a small farm in Elkton, Tennessee, where he milked cows, raised hogs and chickens, and grew cotton, small grains and hay. Though he has traveled far and wide, given many speeches, trained many veterinarians, and made well a multitude of sick animals throughout his lifetime, he remains a humble and grateful man.
“I’m just an old country boy. I just got a break,” he told us. “The best thing we did was to come over here to Georgia. It was just what I wanted.”