In today’s employment climate, changing jobs every few years is the norm, and if someone has been in their position more than 10 years, it is unique. Carolyn Orts has worked at the Sam and Sally Glass Poultry Diagnostic Laboratory in Gonzales since 1976. Carolyn is more than unique; she is a walking history of poultry diagnostic practices.
With more than 40 years on the job, Carolyn is the perfect person to kick off the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) Employee Spotlight series. Born and raised in Gonzales, Carolyn knew Dr. Sam Glass and Carol DuBose, both of whom worked at the poultry laboratory, which at that time was operated by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.
“If I am not mistaken, they called me looking for someone to do office work,” Carolyn remembers. “There was no advertisement that I saw. Growing up in Gonzales, I kind of knew what went on here [at the lab]. This is a different job for Gonzales, and it was interesting.”
From 1976 until 1997, Carolyn worked under Dr. Glass. She started answering phones, filing papers and facilitating payroll. Despite being hired for office work, it soon became apparent everyone pitched in at the lab.
Carol DuBose often accompanied Dr. Glass into necropsy to take dictation on the lesions he found in the birds. But, when her serology and bacteriology work kept her busy, Carolyn stepped up.
“As the lab got busy, I started going into necropsy and taking dictation. Dr. Glass was patient and spelled out the words I didn’t know. This came in handy when we had to send a monthly report to College Station. Each diagnosis had to be listed in that monthly report,” Carolyn said.
With only four employees, the lab was a team atmosphere. When something interesting came through the door, everyone learned about the case. Dr. Glass diagnosed several diseases not previously seen in the area, including a case of Avian Influenza (AI) in the 1980s. That was the first time Carolyn grasped how the lab affected the country’s food supply.
“There were things we found that helped prevent major problems from happening,” she said. “You see people raising birds and they don’t think about how that bird can affect others. But working here, you see how the poultry industry impacts the government and the food industry. When we had high-pathogenic AI, even though it wasn’t a bad outbreak, it had a negative impact on the community, the state and our global exports.”
From evolving diseases to changing clients, Carolyn stayed with the lab. In 1992, the lab transitioned to join the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, or TVMDL.
Up until the 1990s, when larger, commercial poultry companies began to move in and/or expand the area, Carolyn said the lab had many clients that were bird owners. Today, most of the clients are representatives from commercial companies. However, some samples come from Florida and beyond, as the Internet helps spread the word of the poultry diagnostic lab in Texas.
When Dr. Glass retired, Dr. Linares headed the lab for 14 years. Today, Dr. Martin Ficken is the resident director at the facility. Carolyn’s duties changed with each director. Today, she doesn’t take dictation in necropsy, but does facilitate sending photos of lesions or other findings to the client when the necropsy is complete.
“There have been a lot of changes from 1976 until now. It has been a unique place to work,” Carolyn said. “I never went out and tried to find another job. I did not go to college and am from a small town. Everything I learned, I learned on the job. It never crossed my mind to leave because I enjoy what I do and the people I work with.”
In 2014, Carolyn was honored with the Texas A&M Vice Chancellor’s Award in the category of Staff Awards, Office and Administrative Staff for her contribution to the agency. Carolyn’s knowledge of avian diagnostics, the ins-and-outs of the lab, and the dedication shown to the Gonzales-area clients makes her an invaluable resource for TVMDL.