Dr. Richard O. Cook, a Bel Air veterinarian who has been practicing for nearly 60 years and was the driving force in reviving the Harford County Farm Fair, died early Monday morning, according to his son, Eric.

Dr. Cook, who grew up in Scranton, Pa., was 86 years old. He managed the Bel Air Veterinary Hospital, which was founded in 1945 and acquired by Dr. Cook in 1959.


Notifications of his passing were posted on the hospital's website and Facebook page Monday.

"To all of his friends, it is with the greatest of sadness that our family shares the heartbreaking news of the passing overnight of our father, grandfather, husband, and of course your beloved "Doc," his relatives wrote in a notice posted on the hospital website. "We thank you all for your prayers and well wishes during these last weeks. As details of the arrangements are shared, we will update our website accordingly."

Tracey Geisel, the hospital's office manager, described Dr. Cook as "a kind, fair, honest man who loved the animals, his clients and staff at Bel Air Veterinary Hospital."

"We are a family," she wrote in an email Monday.

Hospital staff learned about Dr. Cook's death Monday morning. The hospital is keeping its normal operating hours "at this time," and updates will be posted on the website, http://belairvet.com.

"We are continuing the business of Bel Air Veterinary Hospital as Doc would expect us to with heavy hearts," Geisel stated. "Up until the last two months Doc was here every day. We are laughing of stories and crying with stories as our clients come in today and share them. We will all support each other through these sad times."

Eric Cook, 59, said his father managed the practice and worked six to six-and-a-half days a week until around Christmas of 2016. He had been involved in multiple community organizations in Harford County, was an avid hunter and fisherman and supported organizations around the world to preserve wildlife.

Cook said his father studied dairy husbandry at Pennsylvania State University and earned his doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania.

He moved to Harford County in the late 1950s and began working as a veterinarian.

"Dr. Cook had a large animal and small animal practice that over the years has evolved to mostly a small animal practice, although he still saw ducks, geese, chickens, roosters, goats, sheep when clients brought them in," Geisel wrote in her email. "He also had a wildlife license, which allowed him to treat wildlife."

As well as he was known for his veterinary practice, Dr. Cook's determination in the mid-1980s to reorganize the county fair, which had been dormant for 20 years, brought him into contact with thousands of county residents and visitors since the first Farm Fair was held in 1988 at the county equestrian center in Bel Air.

Dr. Cook was the fair's first chairman and its chief fund-raiser and remained active in its planning and operations for much of the ensuing three decades. The 30th annual Farm Fair will be held in late July.

Joan Ryder, of Fallston, succeeded Dr. Cook as chair of the fair board. The owner and broker for Joan Ryder & Associates Real Estate Inc. in Bel Air served on the board for about 15 years until she resigned in 2010.

"He was just such a great guy," Ryder, 70, said Monday. "My heart is aching at hearing the news."


She said Dr. Cook invited her to get involved with the fair, and she consulted with him about fair matters even after she took over as board chair.

"He liked to be part of it," she said.

Ryder, who grew up in Edgewood, met Dr. Cook when she was 14 years old. He treated the horses she rode at a friend's family farm off of Carsins Run Road. She rode horses along 100-mile trail rides in Hot Springs, Va., and Dr. Cook was the veterinarian for the horses on those rides.

Dr. Cook, who Ryder said "just seemed like my grandfather," cared for horses and other large farm animals for Ryder, and he later cared for her dogs throughout their lives.

"He cared about people, and he cared about your animals," she said.

Ryder said, for Dr. Cook, putting a person's dog to sleep "was like he was putting his [own] dog down – he was very sad about it."

"He was my family's vet and friend for almost fifty years," Maryanna Skowronski, a Bel Air resident and director of the Historical of Harford County wrote in an email. "What a life and career to try to put into words."

Skowronski recalled a Sunday mid-afternoon, when her sister's beagle mix had badly torn a dewclaw and he was in a lot of pain, as the nail kept catching on everything.

"I called the vet hospital and left a message asking if I could bring the dog in the first thing Monday morning," she said. "A short time later the phone rang and it was Doc calling to tell me to bring the dog over right away. When I told him I hadn't expected anyone to call me back on a Sunday he replied, 'Well, we can't let the little one suffer!' I met him at the back door of the clinic and he took care of the dog's nail. That's the kind of man he was."

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

This story will be updated.