Herriott's Legacy

Veterinarian and author James Wight describes how his father's example led him down a similar path
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Feb 01, 2007

THIRSK, ENGLAND

His father inspired a generation.


A letter worth writing
James Herriot's books sold some 70 million copies worldwide. Yet, veterinarian, author and son James Wight never lived in the shadow of that legacy— instead, he caught it, embraced it, nurtured it and even turned into a second career of sorts.

Pulled into veterinary medicine by his father's influence, the 64-year-old Wight penned Herriot's biography, "The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father," after retiring from veterinary practice in 2001.

He palpates retirement with a regimen of public speaking and raising money for charities after selling his practice. In an exclusive interview with DVM Newsmagazine, Wight talks about his career, dynamic changes facing the profession and his famous father's influence on veterinary medicine.

"People are still interested in his life," he says.

Many of Alf Wight's (James Herriot's real name) messages from a bygone era hold deep-seated truths for veterinarians, even in 2007. The reason? Veterinarians and pet owners still identify with his stories, catapulting this part-time author and full-time veterinarian to worldwide fame. Of which he sought none, Wight adds.


All creatures small: Dr. James Wight says that the changes facing veterinary medicine are global in scope. Veterinary work in animal agriculture has steadily shifted to companion-animal medicine. Some areas in England are going without access to veterinary care entirely, he tells DVM Newsmagazine.
His books are about respect for life, the animals we care for, good storytelling and, best of all, human behavior, the ultimate punchline, Wight says.

"By his writings, he put this profession right on the map. That is what he did," Wight says. "He also put it in a good light; this is the thing.

"He wasn't an author to me. He was a friend, father and professional colleague. That is how he wanted it. It made very little difference."

Jimmy Wight, who was introduced in later Herriot books and portrayed in a BBC series, launched his career as a veterinarian at the ripe age of 5. In fact, a farmer told him later that he used to walk around professing to be a veterinarian.

Destiny won. "I knew then what I wanted to do with my life," he recalls.

After graduating from Glasgow Veterinary College in Scotland, he spent the next 30 years "with my arm up a cow's backside," he says with a laugh.

A different world?

Dynamic changes to the veterinary profession during the last decade would have astounded Wight's father:

  • The sophistication of the medicine
  • The shift in the demographic makeup of the profession
  • The role veterinarians play in public health
  • Steady migration from its roots in agriculture to companion-animal medicine

Consider Thirsk in the United Kingdom.

Wight joined the practice in 1967, working with his father and Dr. Donald Sinclair (aka Sigfried Famon), two of the funniest men he has ever known.