Dr. James Mahler
A "country boy" turned molecular science researcher turned small-town veterinarian? Meet Dr. James Mahler of Bay Animal Clinic, this month's Good Neighbor!
- story by Pat Saik, photos by Ellis Anderson
Dr. Mahler proclaims himself to be “just a country boy.” Having been raised on a farm in the Texas panhandle during the post-World War II years, he learned about caring for animals long before he went to vet school.
Vet school, however, came later. Rather, chemistry and biochemistry became Dr. Mahler’s first choice of study; he earned a master’s degree in molecular biology at West Texas State University.
For two years, Dr. Mahler conducted genetic research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Oak Ridge, established in 1943, is the largest US Department of Energy science and energy laboratory.
At age 27, Dr. Mahler decided to attend vet school. He'd already grown tired of the competitive nature of high-level research in the scientific world and felt that he'd reached a career ceiling. A friend who was a vet and a professor specializing in pig viruses, suggested he switch gears. Mahler was doubtful. The friend pointed to Mahler's boss, the director of Oak Ridge's cancer research center, another veterinarian.
Dr. Mahler decided to give it a shot. But only one shot, a safe miss. Rare was the applicant who got into vet school on the first try.
James Mahler was accepted.
“I was one of the oldest vet students in my class,” he recalls. “I remember that Carol had her doubts about this change in career, but she changed her mind after reading James Herriot’s books about practicing veterinary medicine in the English countryside.”
After he graduated in 1981 from the vet school at the University of Tennessee, he accepted a job with Dr. Robert Akers, the only veterinary in Bay St. Louis. Dr. Akers sold the business to Dr. Mahler in 1982, and he has been practicing at the Bay Animal Clinic on St. John Street ever since. His good friend Dr. Lebourgeois had opened the Waveland Animal Hospital a few years before.
James Mahler met his future wife, Carol, in 1970, when they both were attending college in Plainview, Texas. Two years later, they married. Recently, they celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary.
Dr. Mahler is nothing if not a family man. He enjoys talking about his wife and children, two daughters and a son, placing a spotlight on them rather than himself.
Carol, a talented musician, earned a master’s degree in music at the University of Tennessee. A native Mississippian, Carol was born in Yazoo City. She has performed professionally as a pianist, and now teaches others to play piano. An adventurous outdoor enthusiast, Carol and daughter Emily hiked together into the Grand Canyon in August while Dr. Mahler happily stayed home.
“We each do our own thing, and we are each independent in our own spheres. In our private, personal spheres it is rare to see us apart.”
“I don’t know what I would do without her,” he says gently.
The Mahlers decided to home-school their children at a time when it was somewhat unusual. Dr. Mahler and Carol served as co-presidents of the home-schooling association and helped build the home-schooling community.
Their oldest daughter Sarah, who was home-schooled since second grade, recently moved to Kentucky with her husband and three children. Sarah became one of the youngest nurses to receive specialty oncology certification. She is also a fine violinist.
Emily lives in Tucson, Arizona and was committed to being a professional violinist until a neck condition prevented her from continuing the grueling road to professional musician. Unstoppable, Emily started a successful music academy. She and her lawyer husband now both work in the music field, producing music for children.
Their youngest, Samuel, lives in Pass Christian and works as a commercial real estate agent with a realty group in Gulfport. Not surprisingly, Samuel is also a musician, and plays the guitar, writes his own music, and has his own band, The Electro-Lights. As a young man, he joined the Army Reserves and recently served in combat for nine months in Afghanistan.
Dr. Mahler reopened shop on the Thursday following Hurricane Katrina and has been going strong ever since. Plans for retirement are not part of the picture. He loves what he does and expects to continue serving the community’s pet lovers.
He no longer performs surgeries, but his office on St. John Street, where he has run his clinic during his entire career, is open to walk-ins, no appointment necessary, for routine services at very reasonable prices.
“When a family pet passes away sometimes my most important job is not as a vet but as a grief counselor.”
Outgoing and friendly during working hours, Dr. Mahler admits to a different personality when he returns to his 16-acre home north of Pass Christian, where he cherishes his peace and quiet.
“I’m a hermit out there,” he confesses, blue eyes dancing behind glasses one might expect Santa Claus to wear.
“My wife is my biggest critic,” he laments. “When I told her about this interview she said ‘you’ll either talk too much or not enough.'”
“She’s right, of course. I’m sure I’ve talked too much [during the interview] on some things and talked too little on other subjects, like myself.”
"I’m a pretty dull guy. My biggest claim to fame is when we kept animals on the place. After Katrina, one of the llamas, named Llama Bean, got arrested for escape three different times by the Harrison County Sheriff.”
Others in this community see it differently. Greatly loved for his kindness and generosity by those who know him, Dr. Mahler truly is “a good neighbor.”