Last night my husband drove up the driveway, walked into the house, and hung up his stethoscope for what just might be the last time. The end of this month marks 50 years that he has practiced veterinary medicine. For now, he's saying, "That's long enough," but we've both learned to never say "Never."
In March of 1972, we drove away from Auburn ready to launch his career -- a career that has proven to be a wonderful fit for his temperament, personality, training, and skills. He has practiced in Huntsville, Hartselle (by far the longest in Hartselle), Ecuador, Decatur, Danville, Athens, and most recently in Priceville. He has worked for/with fellow veterinarians, he has owned his own practice, he has taught classes about animal health in the Andes Mountains, and he has treated animals in the corporate setting through Banfield Pet Hospital (found inside PetSmart locations).
Steve has been in all of the James Herriot (as in "All Creatures Great and Small") scenarios with farm animals. He has been bitten, scratched, stepped on, and almost killed during an encounter with a horse who went berserk when Steve was trapped in its stall. He has doctored snakes, monkeys, hamsters, birds, chickens, cows, pigs, goats, and a TIGER! But the majority of his years have been spent treating dogs and cats.
In my (completely biased) opinion, Steve is an excellent diagnostician, an especially valuable skill since dogs and cats can't tell you where it hurts.
He hasn't made every client happy, and some of his patients have died in spite of his very best efforts. The vast majority, though, saw him once and returned many times after that. Long before the advent of emergency clinics, he kept the road hot between our house and the clinic seeing animals in the middle of the night or staying way past the clinic's posted closing time. Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, family birthdays, anniversaries, church services, the kids' concerts, dances, and sporting events, you name it, he's been late for it or missed it entirely because of a sick animal and its distraught owner.
He has seen a LOT of changes since he began his journey. New medicines and equipment have made treatments and surgeries possible that would have been unheard of or at least very difficult in 1972. He has also seen vast differences between pets and their people in 1972 and pets and their people in 2022. Maybe one of these days he'll write a book about that evolution. He has already written one book -- "What a Way to Make a Living: Tales of a Small Town Veterinarian" -- but has enough stories to fill another. Writing is one of his goals for these post-practicing years, and I believe we'll ALL benefit if he fulfills that goal.
When I think about why my husband has been successful as a veterinarian, I can immediately come up with several reasons.
STEVE IS A MAN OF TOTAL INTEGRITY. In John 1:47, Jesus described the man Nathanael as a man "in whom there is no guile." Other translations say, "no deceit," or "a man of complete integrity." I believe that's the way Jesus would describe Steve. I had a friend tell me one time that Steve was "all cake and no icing," and she meant it in a very complimentary way. He's honest. He's truthful. He's trustworthy. Whether he's tithing or paying his taxes, he would rather die than cheat, steal, or lie.
STEVE IS SMART. He has the mind of a scientist and is meticulous about gathering accurate information, but he is also WISE, and that is different from just being smart. I believe his clients have benefited from his wisdom almost as much as the kids and I have.
STEVE IS GENTLE AND SOFT-SPOKEN BUT ALSO VERY STRONG. He's very kind, but don't ever mistake that for weakness. Steve is passionate and firm in his convictions, and I am convinced he would wrestle a bear with his bare hands that threatened me or one of our children or grandchildren.
STEVE IS RESPECTFUL. His parents taught him very well.
STEVE IS PATIENT. With the possible exception of when Auburn is doing poorly in sports or when I spend too much money.
STEVE IS CONSISTENT. He gets up early and goes to bed early. I believe the clients who have known him through the years can attest to him always having the same demeanor. He's been someone they could count on.
STEVE IS GUIDED BY GOD AND LIVES ACCORDING TO BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES. I can testify that has been true every day I've known him. Whether he had his own business or was working for someone else, his mindset was the same. He has given far more than "a day's work for a day's pay."
You could say Steve has been lucky to have had the health and the opportunity to practice his profession for 50 years, but I would use the word BLESSED. Very, very blessed. God has protected Steve from serious harm. God has prevented him from making poor business decisions. God has allowed him to share his faith with his colleagues, clients, and employees. Veterinary medicine has allowed Steve to provide a comfortable living for our family, and, as his wife, I am extremely grateful. If you have been one of Steve's clients through the years, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
One of Steve's very first clients, Mrs. Shirley Russell, died last week, and her children asked Steve to conduct her graveside service. He considered that to be a tremendous honor. We loved Shirley and were so grateful to her for trusting her dog "Inky" to the new vet in town all those years ago. We became good friends.
Steve once wrote a booklet for our children based on his insights after years of studying the Book of Proverbs. I think several verses in Proverbs have been his "marching orders" for 50 years, and we pray that our grandchildren will march to these same truths.
Proverbs 10:9 -- "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out."
Proverbs 28:6 -- "Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
than a rich man who is crooked in his ways."
Proverbs 11:3 -- "The integrity of the upright guides them,
but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them."
Proverbs 19:1 -- "Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity
than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool."
Proverbs 20:7 -- "The righteous who walks in his integrity—
blessed are his children after him!"