East Texans share their memories of longtime vet

Published on Monday, 6 January 2014 00:05 - Written by FAITH HARPER fharper@tylerpaper.com

East Texans recently shared fond memories of a longtime Tyler veterinarian who had a big heart or animals and the youth.

Dr. Steven Wilson, who took over the Glenwood Animal Hospital practice in the 1976, died on Dec. 27 at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer.

In addition to his capacity at the clinic, Wilson served as the veterinarian for the East Texas State Fair for 40 years, worked with the Caldwell Zoo for 11 years and commonly helped the Smith County Sheriff’s Office with their veterinary needs.

“Often times he wouldn’t bill us,” former Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith said. “We couldn’t trust our animals to anyone else in that period of time (because) he was so good. He was concerned with the animals. They weren’t just animals; they were family.”

Wilson also was called when there were allegations of animal abuse in the county. Smith said Wilson’s opinion was valuable to determine if the animals were sick or neglected.

“He testified for us on numerous occasions when we would have to get a warrant for someone’s arrest or to pick up animals that were being starved,” Smith said. “We always valued his opinion, and we never did that without his approval.”

Wilson also helped check in all of the participants in the agricultural shows at the East Texas State Fair and was on call in case of emergencies.

“He was always very gracious and happy to come out and give us a hand if we needed any help,” said Wayne Lacy, a former Smith County AgriLife extension agent and neighbor of Wilson.

Lacy said that when he came back to East Texas in 1991, Wilson approached him to help continue annual low-cost rabies clinics.

Wilson also had a hand in getting Wild and Free Again, a small nonprofit animal rescue and rehabilitation facility in Lindale, to take on helping injured birds, its owner Beverly Grage said.

“I didn’t start taking in birds until a game warden showed up with an owl that was in 94, and it wasn’t until 99 that I finally said, ‘I need a vet that will work with me,’” she said. “That’s why I contacted Wilson.”

But Wilson turned her down.

“It was a short time after I asked him. I had a call from him about a red tail hawk, and he did everything he could and needed a rehabilitator to take care of it,” Ms. Grage said. “I went in and picked it up and asked him if he wanted to work with me. (He said), ‘No, I only did this for the game warden.’”

Then he called her again with another bird that needed help, and it wasn’t long before he was seeing every bird of prey Ms. Grage took in. She said neither knew a lot about taking care of the birds when they started, but they learned together.

“He saw a need and he saw a way he (could) help and he stepped up …” she said. “It worked out well. We got to be good friends. We did a good thing together for the wildlife and serve the community by getting a lot of these birds in the wild.”

Wilson also helped get a fly cage built at the facility for the birds, found some temporary funding to help with feed and stepped in when there was an issue with the facility’s permits.

“He was the kind of a guy that if he thought there was a cause that was being held back or not being treated correctly, he would jump in with both feet, and he would battle. … He stood up for me.”

That knowledge came in handy when Wilson began working with the Caldwell Zoo.

Hayes Caldwell, executive director of the zoo, said Wilson was a backup vet for many years before going full-time 11 years ago.

Caldwell said Wilson jumped right in and was not afraid to learn new things.

“I think the overall level of care improved through our association with Steve,” Caldwell said. “He had a wealth of knowledge from his prior practice, but then he was quick to learn. … He always found the best way to care for the animals.

“They were individual patients of his, and he would go through there and talk to them,” Caldwell said. “He had a good way with not only the animals, but the keepers that cared for the animals, and that is one of the most important aspects that he provided.”

Wilson’s friends said he was a deeply spiritual man who was a member of Marvin Methodist Church for almost 40 years.

He also dabbled in auctioneering and often used his talents to help nonprofits in their auctions. He served on the board of directors of Children’s Village, a nonprofit that helps abused children, for many years.

Ms. Grage said Wilson gave his time, knowledge and experience to any cause that needed it.

“He was a godly man, and he did a lot of that because he said it was the right thing to do,” she said. “That’s why God put him here. It made working with him a pleasure. I can’t say enough nice things about him.”