Dr. Carl M. Cousins, 84, of Philadelphia and formerly of Bryn Mawr, the first African American veterinarian to operate a private animal hospital in Pennsylvania, died Sunday, Dec. 4, of a heart attack at his vacation home in Pleasantville, N.J.

When he entered the field more than a half century ago, there were no African Americans studying, teaching or practicing veterinary medicine in the state.

In 1960, Dr. Cousins passed the certifying examination and received his license to practice animal medicine. A year later, he established his own small practice, the Haverford Animal Hospital, in a beige building at 517 W. Lancaster Ave. Its success drew the attention of students interested in careers in laboratory animal medicine or veterinary medicine.

One of them, Dr. Reginald Royster, followed him into the field, and took over the practice when Dr. Cousins retired in 1994.

"Dr. Cousins was a like a father figure and a mentor, and as the years went by, became a great friend," Dr. Royster said. "I love him dearly. We had a wonderful relationship."

In the 1970s, Gov. Milton Shapp appointed Dr. Cousins to the Pennsylvania Board of Veterinary Medicine, on which he served 12 years, including two as chairman.

He broke new ground as the first African American to serve on boards of examiners at both the state and national levels, his family said.

Born in Victoria, Va., to Lucious J. and Annie Dowdy Cousins, he was one of four siblings. His parents instilled in him the values of honesty, reliability, loyalty, respect, and hard work.

"Carl was taught to treat women like he treated his mother, and to love God with all of his heart," his family wrote in a tribute.

In 1948, he graduated as class valedictorian at Lunenburg High School in Victoria. He received a bachelor of science degree from Virginia State College.

At age 19, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army. Starting in 1952, Dr. Cousins served two years of active duty in the Korean War.

After the war, he continued his studies at Tuskegee University, where he earned a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine. After graduating, "Doc," as he was called, was recruited by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine as an instructor of small animal medicine and surgery.

Later, Dr. Cousins enjoyed being a guest lecturer and serving on various committees at the vet school. His passion for education kept him involved in medicine throughout his life.

He mentored students at Cornell University, Penn State University's Delaware County campus, Cheyney University, and the Philadelphia and suburban public schools.

Dr. Royster, who became interested in becoming a vet in the ninth grade, drew inspiration from Dr. Cousins. "We knew Dr. Cousins, so once I was able to drive, I came over to visit with him, and he let me watch and observe. He helped to direct my career," Dr. Royster said.

At the urging of the neighborhood in 1976, Dr. Cousins opened a second animal hospital on Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia. The practice also was a training ground for new veterinarians.

When Dr. Cousins retired in August 1994, Dr. Royster took over the Haverford Animal Hospital. He still practices there. The Fairmount hospital was sold to another practitioner.

Dr. Cousins was a veterinary consultant for the Laboratory Animal Research Program at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges.

He served on corporate boards including the Ralston Purina Advisory Board, Royal Bank of America Board of Directors, and the Bryn Mawr Hospital Foundation Board of Trustees.

He was a member of many veterinary organizations, the Ardmore Rotary Club, and the Main Line Red Cross.

He was a Mason and a life member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (Boule').

For 52 years, Dr. Cousins was a member of the Zion Baptist Church of Ardmore. He was a trustee for 38 years.

In 1962, he married Althea L. Edmiston. They had two daughters.

Besides his wife of 54 years, he is survived by daughters Kimberly Mary Cousins and Karen Anne Cousins; four grandchildren; five nieces; and three nephews. Three brothers died earlier.

A viewing from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, will be followed by an 11:30 a.m. funeral service at St. Sahag & St. Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church, 630 Clothier Rd., Wynnewood. Interment is private.

610-313-8102