Dr. Michelle LeBlanc

Dr. Michelle LeBlanc with a foal during her years at UF. (File photo)

Former faculty member remembered by friends, colleagues

By Sarah Carey

Friends, former students, family members and colleagues gathered to celebrate the life of Dr. Michelle LeBlanc, a renowned equine reproduction specialist and longtime former University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine faculty member, on May 4 at the UF Straughn Center.

LeBlanc, who was 58, died April 13 after battling colon cancer for more than two years.

Fittingly, the event was held on Kentucky Derby day, with the race available for pre-service viewing for those who came early.

An emotional Dr. Chris Sanchez, LeBlanc’s longtime friend and former UF colleague, greeted everyone and thanked them for coming, saying LeBlanc had issued clear instructions about the type of service she wanted: “It couldn’t be in a church, Omi (Risco) had to cater it,”  Sanchez said. There also was a third request, having to do with the availability of certain adult beverages.

LeBlanc would have been pleased. A full spread of hot food was served before and after the event, courtesy of her friend Risco, a local caterer and the wife of LeBlanc’s former colleague, Dr. Carlos Risco, now chairman of the college’s department of large animal clinical sciences. Many lingered for hours after the affair, reconnecting and catching up on old times while remembering a dear friend.

The evening unfolded with a series of tributes to LeBlanc, who at the age of 26 was the college’s youngest faculty member when she joined the reproduction service in 1980.

“I feel honored to have been the first one to contact her when she applied for a spot here,” said Dr. Maarten Drost, a professor emeritus of food animal medicine and reproduction at UF. “She was the lone female in a group of older, married men.”

LeBlanc served in the department of large animal clinical sciences for 22 years, subsequently going to work for Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky, where the LeBlanc Equine Reproduction Center has been named in her honor. Married to Dr. Kevin Anderson, an associate professor and anatomy instructor at the college until his death in 2010, LeBlanc split her time between Lexington and Gainesville but lived in Gainesville fulltime for the past three years.

She received numerous awards, including the World Equine Veterinary Association Lifetime Achievement Award and the Carl J. Norden Distinguished Teacher Award, and was named 2000 Theriogenologist of the Year by the American College of Theriogenologists. She was an avid horsewoman and most recently rode and competed in dressage.

Many remembered LeBlanc’s competitive spirit, as manifested in her thirst for academic achievement, but also in her athleticism.

Drost and Dr. Carla Carleton of Michigan State University recalled a bike ride held for 13 years as part of the annual meeting of the American College of Theriogenologists.

“It wasn’t just a bike ride — it was the ‘Tour de Therio,'” Carleton said, adding that primarily she saw “the back of Michelle,” as LeBlanc usually led the cycling pack.

“She was always a tremendous friend and colleague,” Carleton said.

Others recounted LeBlanc’s capacity for mentorship.

“She took a genuine, personal interest in your education,” said Dr. Paul Johnston, a contemporary of LeBlanc’s from Nova Scotia. Johnston attended one of LeBlanc’s embryo transfer workshops and became interested in the mentorship approach to passing the American College of Theriogenologists board exams.

“She spent hours and hours with me. She was a wonderful individual and I don’t think there’s anyone else in the world I have more respect for,” Johnston said.

Dr. Susan Oakley, a former student who graduated in 1991, drew laughs from the crowd when she noted that amidst the drab work clothes worn by reproduction faculty members, LeBlanc, who liked large, dangling earrings, had stood out.

“She dared to look like a woman,” Oakley said.

Dr. Janet Roser, an animal sciences professor at the University of California-Davis, said an award has been established by W.R. “Twink” Allen and others from the International Society for the Study of Equine Reproduction in LeBlanc’s honor. The $500 award will be given at each ISER meeting to the person who wins the category of best presentation by a speaker under the age of 35 years.

The event ended with kind words and anecdotes from her stepsons, Brett and Jon Anderson, and her sister, Denine LeBlanc, followed by a 15-minute slideshow capturing key moments, people and animal companions that were a part of LeBlanc’s life.

The Michelle LeBlanc Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established at UF in LeBlanc’s honor to benefit students with an equine orientation who are interested in theriogenology or stud farm medicine. Donations can be made online here or contact Patricia Wlasuk, assistant director of development, at 352-294-4256. Donations can also be made to the Theriogenology Foundation or to Haven Hospice.


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