Dr. John Hayes spent a lifetime helping animals, including running a veterinary practice in Greene County and performing tens of thousands of low-cost surgeries, but he succumbed to cancer on May 18. He was 81 years old.
However, his legacy—in Greene County and elsewhere—will live on.
Dr. John, as he was affectionately known throughout his career, grew up in southern Maryland and graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1963, followed by two years in the U.S. Air Force Veterinary Corps.
His love of animals was evident from the start. It was Dr. John’s father, who managed a large cattle farm for a time, who recognized this and steered his son to be a veterinarian.
During Dr. John’s entire career, he always made himself available to people and animals in need 24 hours a day/seven days a week, including after two back surgeries, three hip replacements and while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation over the last several months. In fact, while battling pneumonia, he still went in and performed his scheduled surgeries and medical appointments just 10 days before his death.
“His biggest passion in life was to help animals, but he loved his clients as much as he loved the animals and I think that is why he was such a great veterinarian,” his daughter Heather Hayes said. “If someone needed him, he was there; that was the one thing that I think was really unique about him. He worried first about taking care of the animal, not whether he would get paid or if it was convenient for him. He just did whatever was needed to help the animal—and worried about everything else later.”
Dr. John opened his first mixed-animal practice, Squire Veterinary Clinic in Upper Marlboro, Md., in 1966 and it eventually became the largest solo practice in Maryland. He later opened a large animal clinic as an arm of Squire, where he performed routine and orthopedic surgery of large animals, as well as foaling services. In 1985, Squire was named by “Washingtonian” magazine as the No. 1 veterinary practice for affordability and quality.
Dr. John’s Maryland clients included large thoroughbred and livestock breeders, along with everyday owners of pets ranging from dogs and cats to the occasional bird and hamster. He once operated on a neighbor’s buffalo and even de-scented skunks when they became a trendy pet in the 1970s.
“It didn’t matter if a client was rich or poor, he treated everyone the same,” Heather said. “No one got special treatment. All animals were equally important to him; by extension, so too were all of Dad’s clients, both paying and non-paying.”
His real concern for animals could be seen in his “off-the-clock” work. When an animal shelter in Maryland was sued for its abysmal conditions and lack of medical care, Dr. John stepped up and offered to be on call to triage and treat animals on a 24/7 basis—for free. In time, his pro bono work was extended to every known animal welfare group in southern Maryland.
In the 1970s, he won praise and media attention for his dramatic show-and-tell presentation in front of the Maryland legislature over a proposed ban of steel leg-hold traps. Cradling a three-legged cat in one arm, he tossed a plastic bag containing the fourth leg, which had been caught and mangled by a trap. “Look at it!” he demanded. “This is no way to treat animals!” One female senator nearly lost her breakfast.
The bill passed quickly.
Dr. John managed to do all this even while raising his four children—Marcee, Heather, Shawn and Brett—and running a 110-acre farm with his first wife, Terry.
“He was like Superman … I tell people that my Dad ran out of body long before he ran out of will,” Heather said. “I don’t know how he continued to go on, but his philosophy was: You wake up, you put your boots on and you go to work. He was a doer.”
Still, the thing about her Dad that she misses the most is talking to him. “My dad was just full of wisdom,” Heather said.
Shawn Hayes, owner of Ruckersville’s Blue Ridge Café and Catering and Dr. John’s son, agrees. He too is going to miss his father’s advice.
“My sister and I both talked about that; it was always great to be able to just call him and say, ‘I’m thinking about doing this, what do you think about it?’” he said. “And Dad always had just really good, practical advice. You felt good knowing that he was behind you in whatever you were doing.”
Heather Hayes says all of her siblings have great memories of going out on farm calls or sitting on a stool, watching Dr. John do surgery and talking to him about their day.
“It was routine to hear Dad going outside in the middle of the night and I’d get up and look out and see him working on a dog or cat that animal control had brought out because it was an emergency,” she recalls.
She also remembers their father taking them to school the mornings after. “We might have an animal that he had taken care of the night before that needed to go to the clinic and it would be jammed in the front seat with all of us and our school books,” she said. “We’d have a cat in a crate or we’d be holding a dog; looking back, it was all a great adventure.”
Heather recalls that Dr. John would “care” for his children as well. If she or her sibling got hurt, Dr. John would take them to the clinic for treatment. “He would take x-rays of a wrist or an ankle if he thought it might be cracked or broken, and I still have a scar from when he sewed me up after I cut my foot on a piece of glass,” she said.
All the kids loved working alongside their father on the farm and at the clinic.
“Dad worked and so if we wanted to spend time with him, we just got out there and worked with him, whether it was building fence or putting in a garden or baling hay or going on a farm call; those are really the best memories,” Shawn Hayes said. “I mean, we really enjoyed just being out and working with Dad and just helping in any way we could.”
There were fun times, too.
Heather Hayes remembers her father taking the family on a camping vacation in upstate New York after he was invited to watch one of his equine charges compete in a major race at Saratoga. “He spent the rest of the time doing whatever we wanted,” she said. “If we went running or swimming or rowing on the lake, he came along too and made a big game out of it.”
Shawn recalls their Dad taking them to Busch Gardens when the Loch Ness Monster roller coaster was first opened in the 1970s. “We rode it over and over again because he just wanted to wear us out,” Shawn recalls. “There weren’t that many people there, so we’d get off, run around as fast as we could and get back on. He thought it was as much fun as we did.”
When Dr. John got two season tickets to the Washington Redskins, he used it as an opportunity to spend quality one-on-one time with each of his children. “When it was your turn, he paid a lot of attention to you and made it so much fun for you,” Shawn said. “Then when the game was over, he wanted to be the first one out so we wouldn’t get stuck in traffic, so he’d run as fast as he could to the parking lot and expect you to keep up!”
In the mid-1980s, Dr. John “retired” for the first time, selling his Maryland practice to his protégé, Dr. Scott Andersen. He continued to do all his shelter and rescue work, however, and help out other veterinarians.
Dr. John eventually moved to Ruckersville and opened Ruckersville Veterinary Clinic in 1988, filling a need in the community. In 1990, he married his second wife, Barbara, who became his partner in work, travel and adventure. For more than a decade they also operated Mountain Valley Farm, a bed and breakfast in Stanardsville.
“John really loved Greene County,” Barbara Hayes said. “He felt like he was so accepted by Greene County and he felt like it was home.”
Dr. John was a founding member of the Greene County Chamber of Commerce and a former president of the Greene County Lions Club. He also read for the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic program in Charlottesville.
“His love for community service came from his grandmother and then his parents,” Heather Hayes said. “They were all very generous and giving and their belief was that you should give back and take care of your community.”
When Shawn Hayes moved to the area in 1995 to open a restaurant he chose a building in front of his father’s clinic.
“That was one of the great selling points,” Shawn said. “My office used to be in the veterinary clinic upstairs next to his and I always felt that I had that confidence because I was right there with him. There was always his laughter and his zest for life but also his ‘get back to work’ attitude. I think it was his favorite saying.”
But even as he’s had to deal with his father’s death during a pandemic that has partially shut down his restaurant, Shawn Hayes says he can see the impact of his father’s philosophy on him.
“Whenever I get worried or something, you know, I just have him in the back of my head and I just try to go back and do what I need to do. You just work through it. He was never one to sit around and worry about things; you made a decision and move on.”
Dr. John “retired” for the second time in 2006 when he sold his Ruckersville practice to Dr. Chip Godine. He never really stopped working though.
“He would say he was retired, but he really wasn’t—not by a long shot,” says Barbara Hayes. “The truth is, there was no way he was ever going to stop being a veterinarian and doing whatever he could to help animals and serve his community, especially unwanted animals and pet owners who needed discounted veterinary services. He saw a big, ongoing need there and he was willing to step up and fill it.”
He continued to help rescue groups and shelters in the surrounding region and do large animal work for clients and livestock organizations.
In 2007, he partnered with the Madison Humane Society to provide official pro bono care. When the director of the organization died, he took it over and moved the organization to Greene County, at which point it was renamed the Madison-Greene Humane Society (MGHS).
The new organization included the region’s first cat shelter, but also an operating room, examination table and medical equipment. Under Dr. John’s leadership, the organization provided not just care for shelter animals, but discounted medical care for low-income local residents.
Over the next 13 years, Dr. John performed over 1,200 surgeries a year at MGHS and worked as an on-call veterinarian—all for free.
“Dad gave so much of his time and energy to the Humane Society, but now that he’s gone, the impact on the community he served will be really tangible,” Heather Hayes said. “We are hoping that other people will step up and support the Humane Society and the work they do there so they can continue to help local animals and their owners. I know it’s what Dad would really want.”
Ronnie Kahn, a MGHS board member and volunteer vet assistant, said Dr. John always worked with people who couldn’t afford vet services.
“He donated the money we received for the low-cost spay and neuter services, as well as any other vet services he provided back to the shelter,” Kahn said. “This man considered everyone his friend. He treated all with respect.”
MGHS member Sandra Barrow said she’d never seen a work ethic like the one in Dr. John.
“He always told me that he wanted to die doing what he loved … taking care of animals,” Barrow said. “He very nearly got his wish. He had been at the shelter seeing animals a few days before his passing. I know I am a better person for having known Dr. John Hayes. God rest Dr. Hayes, my mentor and friend.”
Barrow said his tell-it-like-it-is philosophy could sometimes be intimidating.
“He was a realist like me, which was one of the reasons we got along so well,” she said. “He had a heart as big as the moon and his dedication and compassion toward all animals is unsurpassed.”
Shawn Hayes said that his father’s candor was a gift.
“He was just so honest, and he would be straightforward in his opinions and his demands, and he could get on you, but you still had enormous amounts of love for him. You know, people just loved him and that’s because his heart was always in the right place,” he said.
And everyone was a friend, Kahn said.
“He treated all with respect,” Kahn said. “His sense of humor was amazing and he made everyone feel comfortable and important at the shelter. We all knew he was on our side.
Mary Shore, a MGHS board member, agreed that he would do anything for you. She remembers when cats got ahold of a rabbit in her neighborhood that she knew was suffering but wasn’t sure what to do.
“I called John and I didn’t know him all that well at that time. He said ‘I’m on my way to a meeting.’ But he knew where I lived and he actually came over in a suit and tie to euthanize that rabbit for me,” Shore said. “I loved him before and I loved him even more. That was such an incredible gesture.”
Heather Hayes remembers that when clients couldn’t pay, Dr. John would accept eggs, chickens, milk, cookies and even a saddle—whatever they could afford.
“My dad believed in and lived by the Golden Rule that you treat others as you would want to be treated, and that was really at the heart of why he was such a giving person,” she said. “He didn’t give in the hopes of getting something in return. He gave constantly because it was the right thing to do.”
Kahn said Dr. John was a “very willing teacher and mentor.” Several veterinary students would do a semester with Dr. John to learn about spaying and neutering and other medical issues that surface at a clinic.
“He would take anyone under his wing to teach and support,” Kahn said. “We non-professionals working at the clinic were taught so much by him allowing us to observe and explaining things clearly so we could comprehend.”
If a young person asked, he would help, whether it was giving them advice or a job or mentoring them as they studied to become a veterinarian. An example is Scott Andersen, 63, who joined Dr. John’s practice in Upper Marlboro, Md., at the age of 13 before going on to become a veterinarian himself. He became the family’s “fifth kid,” he said, and later purchased Dr. John’s first practice.
“I’m quite sure at that point he didn’t realize that I was going to become the protégé” who purchased the practice in 1985,” Andersen said.
Andersen said he learned from watching Dr. John that incorporating students—professional students, undergraduate students and high school students—into a mentoring program is important to the veterinary field.
“Book smart is all well and good,” Andersen said. “The problem is the actual role of a real community veterinarian has very little to do with what’s taught in the universities and has everything to do with the ability to feel … that you are part of the community and that people will look up to you.”
Andersen said as a student mentor, Dr. John was always supportive and also willing to learn from the students, as well.
“If I ever got in trouble, you always had an open door, he was very approachable individually,” Andersen said. “I learned how to be an older practitioner and be extremely successful at it, and your success is dictated by what the public says not by what you say. The second thing I learned was why you needed to be available for the people and to help teach the next generation. My answer will always be yes. I have a ton of students and I feel proud to do so.”
Dr. John was such a larger than life personality that his passing still seems unreal to those who knew him best.
“I know it’s going to hit me, but I think the logical side of my brain has just kicked in,” Shawn Hayes said. “The good thing is that he was at peace with death. He knew. He’d been a veterinarian for 60 years and he knew his body was shutting down. He always said, you know, when the Good Lord says it’s time, then it’s time.”
Heather Hayes said her father was always there for their family—no matter what. Most recently, when his daughter Marcee started having some health issues of her own, Dr. John made it a point to go to every doctor visit with her so he could advocate for her and help her make good decisions.
“I look back on all the things he did in his life for so many and I’m amazed because he never missed an important event for any of his children or grandchildren and he always made time to take a call or come visit or talk through a problem,” she said. “Since he’s been gone, it just feels like there is this giant void in the world—and not just for us but for everyone that knew him.”
Board member Stephanie Dean said Dr. John never did what he did to be a hero or for the recognition.
Board member Stephanie Dean said Dr. John never did what he did to be a hero or for the recognition.
“He never needed awards. He never needed a thank you,” she said. “He just simply cared to do the right thing. God gave him a gift and he used it up until his final days.”
Shawn Hayes said that was important to him.
“He always was out there taking care of God’s land and God’s animals, and that was his passion—the work was what made him happy,” he said.
For information about MGHS, email email@example.com or visit on Facebook at MGHSisHope. The shelter is located at 375 Jeri Allen Way in Ruckersville. Call (434) 985-3203.
Please send any donations in Dr. John’s memory to MGHS, P.O. Box 95, Ruckersville, VA 22968. All donations are tax-deductible.
History and Awards
Dr. John always said he didn’t do it for the accolades, but that didn’t stop him from earning many of them over the years.
• As a student at veterinary school, he served as president of Alpha Psi and then as president of the student chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
• He founded the Prince George’s Veterinary Association in 1967 and served as president until 1975.
• He served as secretary/treasurer of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association for 14 years.
• He was involved in establishing the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.
• He was a founder of the Maryland Veterinary Education Foundation, which provides scholarships and student loans to veterinary medical students, including one called the “Dr. John Fund.”
• He was an honor roll member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and president of the Maryland Veterinary Association and the Maryland Board of Veterinary Examiners.
• After moving to Virginia, he joined the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association and the Jefferson Area Veterinary Association.
• He received a Virginia State Republican Commendation in 1988.
• He was featured in the Daily Progress in 2009 as a Distinguished Dozen recipient.
• In 2009, he was also named the Distinguished Virginia Veterinarian of the Year.
• In 2010 he received the A.M. Mills Award, which is given to veterinarians who advance the welfare and knowledge of their profession while contributing greatly to their communities and fellow citizens.
• In 2013, Dr. John was given a Distinguished Alumnus Award at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
• In 2017, he was named a Red Cross Animal Rescue Hero.