In life you have lots of friends and acquaintances. If you are very lucky you will have four, possibly five very good friends.
Steve Wilson was one of those. He was probably a better friend to me than I was to him, but maybe that is what good friends are.
I was but one of a huge cast of Wilson’s friends. A veterinarian known by most as Doc, he collected people like some collect books. He had all kinds and was happiest when they all mixed together.
In our relationship he was Wilson. I was Knight. The common first name was too confusing. But then he was on a last name or nickname basis with most everyone.
We met over a mule deer story. We solidified a friendship over a sick horse, and what followed was three decades of life’s ups and downs.
Wilson didn’t have a dainty personality. He blew through a room like a spring wind through West Texas. I always compared him to the Siegfried Farnon character in All Creatures Great and Small – gruff on the outside but tender on the inside. As a veterinarian he cared as much for the animals as those that owned them.
Through the years we hunted and fished around Texas. For several years we hosted the Umpteenth Annual Dove hunt, so named because no one remembered how many times we did it. As Wilson would say we invited 45 or 50 of our closest friends for an opening day hunt that was hit and miss, but always fun.
Everyone went on those trips, the important, the unimportant and even a none hunters.
The hunt started the night before with everyone sitting around a motel parking lot swapping tales with old friends and meeting new ones.
And there was always excitement like the year it was 104 in the shade and while cooking lunch the melted ice that had been on the French fries hit the grease and started an instant pasture fire.
Wilson introduced his own daughters, Stephanie and Wendy, to hunting. Stephanie took to it. He said Wendy was more likely to retrieve a wounded bird and say, “Fix it Daddy.” They were still both his girls.
He liked to hunt and his adventures took him to Alaska and Africa. As much as he relished those trips they could easily be trumped by fishing with the grandkids in a lake behind the house.
For years my mornings started with a 6:30 call from Wilson on his way to work at Glenwood Animal Hospital or Caldwell Zoo. Wilson often ended the call by saying, “Well I guess we solved the world’s problems.” By the next morning we always had a new set to work.
Some days he would start by critiquing my work. “You did OK,” was his compliment. Otherwise it would be “Well, looks like you ran out of things to write about this week.”
He also didn’t mind offering his opinion on a topic, making sure I knew I could adopt it if I wanted to. After all, his life motto was “often wrong, never in doubt.”
And he always had a story. One of my favorite veterinary stories was the Christmas tale of the loose bull on the Willow Brook Country Club parking lot. With Jim Bob Carr at the wheel, Wilson was in the back of his truck attempting to rope the bull while swerving around the luxury cars of those partying inside.
The most important things in Wilson’s life were his family, his church, his role as a veterinarian and his friends.
Wilson taught everyone something. To me it was about community. He once told me if you were going to live in a community you owe it to give something back. Pitch in and get involved somewhere.
He was involved in a lot. The East Texas Fair vet for 40 years, his church and organizations like the Children’s Village. He helped the Smith County Sheriff’s office with their animals and abused animals they found. He helped Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with everything from injured eagles to ShareLunker bass.
He helped animal rehabilitator Beverly Gage make sure she had food for the birds she took in, and took on some political big boys to make sure she got a permit to house eagles.
“I like to stir the pot,” he often said of the skirmishes he would get into.
He also had an impact as a volunteer auctioneer raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for groups like East Texas Woods and Waters Foundation and the friends group of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center.
In the past year he also taught me about death and dying. After he got sick we often talked about what he was feeling and thinking. Of course in typical Wilson fashion it came with a side dose of humor.
“I know what I am,” he said when he called one morning last summer after back-to-back family vacations. “Remember that movie Weekend at Bernie’s. I’m Bernie. They just put me in the car and take me wherever they want to go.”
Following a recent retirement party he quipped, “That was better than a visitation. I got to talk back to everyone.”
We had talked about doing a story about dying with dignity because if anyone ever did it right and on their own terms, it was Wilson.
In the end I couldn’t do it. Those conversations turned out too personal. Memories I wanted to hold onto alone.
We did co-write his obituary months ago, laughing about what to include and what to leave out, and why. When I delivered the final draft it felt strange giving it to him. I told him I did all I could. All he had to do was fill in the final date. He did that last Friday.
As a preacher would say his mortal body is gone. There is no way Steve Wilson is ever going to leave those who knew him.
Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.