I met him yesterday, while I was in the process of working in a clinic for relief. He came in because he wasn't sure if he had a day off or if he was supposed to work - so erring on the side of caution, he figured he had to work. When he discovered that he didn't have to work, he still took some time to stop and chat; in the process, he earned my respect with with just 6 words:
"I've been practicing for 60 years."
SIXTY YEARS. You didn't read that wrong - and I didn't hear it wrong. This gentleman is finally getting ready to retire, after 60 YEARS of service to animals and people. Unfathomable to me. Awe- and hope-inspring to me. Here is a man who found what he wanted to do, found his passion, and followed it. Here is a man who has enjoyed an extraordinary career in a field which has evolved faster than most. Here is a man who was lucky enough to not go to work every day, because he enjoyed it so much it wasn't a job.
He graduated from Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College in the early 1950s (before it became Texas A&M University!). He was the first person to go to college in his family, and he graduated from high school at the age of 16. The next day he turned 17, and he got in a year of university studies before being drafted into the Infantry. He spent three years as an Infantryman (a hard life now, harder then, I would imagine). We talked about the horrible food - though I ended up with a greater appreciation for my horrible Army food after hearing his story. Doc said that at one point they were eating C-rations from Australia, and this was before things were really refrigerated. So, they had a ruck march that was going to take them about 3 days - and they received enough of these c-rations to get them through the three days. At the end of the march, he still had two days' worth left, because the food was canned mutton (sheep). Not only was it sheep, but it was rotten sheep! What is good and what is bad is all a matter of perspective.
He left not too long after that yesterday, but we worked together today and I was able to let him talk some more since the clinic was very slow. When Doc started practicing there was but one antibiotic - penicillin. They didn't know about Vibrio, IBR, and the like. They didn't have vaccines for many of the diseases that we read about today but rarely see. They didn't know how to evaluate bulls for breeding potential, so he got together with a group of vets to figure that out. No vet schools had x-ray machines, so when they built the new one and brought in someone to teach the students how to read films, the school took an old Army x-ray machine and installed it and sent the vet to MD Anderson to learn how to read human films. "A bone is a bone, after all," Doc said.
Most of his career was spent in mixed animal practice; I asked him what his favorite species to work on was and he thought for a moment before saying, "I can't that I have a favorite. They're all so interesting and different." His demeanor is quiet, calm, thoughtful, and kind. I can see why he has had such success for so long.
The last story I can relay is this one: he pregnancy checked 100,000 cows in ONE YEAR. He got paid a dollar a cow, but could buy a "good chevy truck for $1250, so I was making pretty good money!" The most cows he checked in one day was 946...in a single day. He was apparently pretty successful, too - as he sat with some cowboys on a lunch break one day, one of the ranchers rode up and told the cowboys that "Doc made me an extra quarter of a million bucks this year!" The cowboys' jaws about dropped to the dirt, and once they recovered they were able to ask the rancher "How?"
The rancher pulled his calf sales record out of his shirt pocket. Handed it to one of the cowboys and said, "How many calves did we sell last year? How many this year? How much profit did we make on those extra calves?" Doc was pretty popular after that! And the rancher had made his point - bringing in a vet had helped the cowboys, not hurt them. A lot of stories, a lot of memories contained in that brain of his. I'm still wrapping my brain around the fact that someone has been doing a job for 60 years. Incredible. And he seems like a good, down-to-earth guy - a guy that has given back as much as he has earned. So I hope you see why I had to write this. Why the words had to be put into e-space. Even my dear friend - who's mentor practiced for 56 (?) years before retiring - was tickled to hear my tale. Couldn't make it up if I tried. Serious kudos to you, Doc! May your retirement be as rich as your career has been. And thanks for sharing - I'm blessed to have known you for even the few hours that I did.