Leader of the Pack
In addition to serving in the North Carolina State Senate, Senator Bill Rabon, Brunswick County’s first veterinarian, still loves caring for Brunswick County’s animals.
The residents of southeastern North Carolina know William “Bill” Rabon as Senator Bill Rabon, a fifth-term representative of Bladen, Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties. But for many in Brunswick County, he is best known as Dr. Rabon, the veterinarian who has been caring for their family and farm pets for decades.
The Early Years
Growing up in the small town of Fair Bluff in Columbus County, young Bill Rabon spent his youth surrounded by animals and agriculture. He became an Eagle Scout while attending West Columbus High School, and after graduating in 1969 received the American Farmer Degree, the highest honor bestowed by Future Farmers of America. A passion for all creatures great and small inspired his pursuit of a career in veterinary medicine, and a family history in this area led him to set up shop in Brunswick County.
“I always wanted to either be a vet or a pediatrician,” he says. “A person who loves one usually loves the other, since both make your heart warm. I ultimately chose to be a vet because I wanted to come home to where my ancestors are from, live in the country and be a country vet. Being able to come to this county to practice on animals, which I’m crazy about, just seemed to be the better option than medical school!”
After earning his undergraduate degree at N.C. State University and receiving his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Georgia in 1976, Dr. Rabon immediately moved to the town of Supply to set up his practice, officially becoming Brunswick County’s first veterinarian. He received a great deal of support from local members of the community in making such a bold move, as the county was very rural back then and had never had a veterinarian before. Dr. Rabon built his first office on the land that Brunswick County Animal Hospital sits on today, and soon after putting out his shingle, business began pouring in.
“When I started out and was asked what I did, I would say ‘hogs and dogs,’ because I treated everything from horses to cows to pigs,” he says. “With farm calls, I never knew what to expect. I’d go out to see a cow that was having problems birthing a calf and invariably be asked, ‘Doc while you’re here, how about taking a look at my wife’s chickens?’ So I had to be prepared because I never knew what I was going to end up doing before I got back to the office.”
In those early years, Dr. Rabon did a lot of work taking care of wildlife as well. Working with the people at Southport Oak Island Animal Rescue (SOAR), he was often called to treat opossums, pelicans, sea turtles, hedgehogs, swans and various other animals. For his first decade in business, Dr. Rabon spent nearly 24 hours a day seven days a week on call to help the county’s creatures.
“I do enjoy thinking about those old days and the memories of my clients and patients,” he says. “I can still remember patients from the 70s. Certain dogs and cats just have a place in your heart, just like certain people, and you never forget them.”
As Brunswick County grew, so did the small veterinary practice. His older brother, Dr. Jim Rabon, a veterinarian himself, joined the practice, and the two split their time and workload.
Today, while Dr. Rabon runs the Southport Animal Hospital, Jim heads up the Brunswick Animal Hospital, and a third partner, Dr. Flint King, runs the Oak Island Animal Hospital. “The three of us run the business like the Three Musketeers,” Dr. Rabon says.
A Life of Service
In addition to caring for the county’s pets, Senator Rabon has spent many years volunteering in public service as well. He was elected to his fifth term in the N.C. General Assembly in November 2018 and he also currently serves as vice-chair of the Brunswick Community College Board of Trustees.
He has served as the chairman of the Brunswick County Board of Health, on the executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America and on the Cape Fear Council and is a charter member of the Southport Rotary Club. He has also worked tirelessly for numerous abandoned pet and rescue groups.
“My work with the Brunswick County Animal Shelter was particularly rewarding,” he says. “When I first started, there was no funding for the shelter, and now it has grown into one of the best rescue organizations in the state today. It’s nice to have been a part of that in the early days.”
What matters most to Senator Rabon, however, are the contributions he is able to make to his fellow county residents. “Being recognized locally by those who know you and appreciate you, that’s what matters, because you know it’s heartfelt. When you’ve served man and man’s best friend, how can you beat that?”
Senator Rabon’s own best friend of the four-legged variety is his Labrador retriever, Tango. “I haven’t been without a lab since I was 15 years old,” he says. “I just can’t imagine life without one. I also have more cats than I can count in my clinic. They just show up and like to stay. Every night we open up the clinic for the cats to run and have their good fun, then we put them up in the morning except for a few that lie around and serve as the welcoming committee.”
With more than four decades of practicing veterinary medicine under his belt, Senator Rabon has no plans of leaving the profession or the county any time soon. He still sees patients at Southport Animal Hospital, and he hopes to continue doing so as long as he can.
“I’ve been at it 42 years now, which seems like a long time to everyone except me,” he says. “To me it seems like yesterday. Brunswick County has given me a good life. I can’t think of a profession that would be any more satisfying than being a veterinarian in Brunswick County, starting a business at the ground, watching it grow, the county grow and pet healthcare grow. It has really been a delightful experience.”
When not at the office taking care of pets or in Raleigh making laws, Senator Rabon can both be found caring for the family’s Winnabow farm, which was passed down to him and his brother by their father. With a son and two grandchildren also residing in Brunswick County, Senator Rabon says that even after retirement, he’s not going anywhere.
“This is where I’m happy, so I’m here, and I’m not going to get far from my farm or my grandchildren. I plan to cross the finish line in Brunswick County.”