It was a roundabout path that Tom Martin took from a Mississippi Delta cotton farm to Purcell.
The longtime veterinarian and face of Purcell Veterinary Hospital grew up on that farm.
And while he had a great boyhood, he worked especially hard to get off of that farm.
“It was a really small farming community,” Tom said. “We were very self-sufficient. We raised everything we ate.”
The town had a sawmill, a grocery store, two service stations, three cotton gins and between 300 and 400 souls.
There were 12 in his high school class. Doing chores on the farm, he learned how to work hard.
All things considered, it was a “good way to learn about life.”
He attended Mississippi State University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry in 1962.
It was his local veterinarian back in Mississippi who encouraged Tom to continue his education by becoming a vet.
“I will back you anyway I can,” Dr. Andy Crawford, a Kansas State alum, told him.
At the time there were only 19 veterinary schools in all of the United States and Canada.
Tom wrote to nine of them.
Eight responded that he was too late to be considered for the incoming class. K-State sent him an application.
Part of the application was an interview so Tom drove to Manhattan, Kans., and met with the assistant dean.
“I got in and made it work,” he said.
It was at K-State that Tom met his future partner, Bob Minter. He also met his future wife, Pat.
At the time, veterinary students were seated alphabetically so Martin and Minter got to know one another.
Tom and another veterinary student even roomed in Minter’s basement.
“We did a lot of studying in that basement,” he said.
Both men graduated as veterinarians in 1966. Minter, who was from McClain County, moved to Purcell to open a practice.
Tom and Pat married and then he enlisted in the Army.
The Vietnam War was ramping up, but Tom didn’t deploy. He became ill and spent 30 days at Brooke Army Medical Center at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas.
After he recovered, the Army sent him to Ft. Sill where he was assigned as a post veterinarian.
On weekends and holidays, Tom would drive to Purcell and help Minter.
He and Pat also began attending the Methodist church in Purcell.
They moved here when his 2-year enlistment was over and on July 15, 1968, Tom joined Minter’s mixed practice.
One year later, he bought half of the practice, which was about three-fourths large animal.
The early clinic lacked facilities to handle the large animals so Tom and Martin made farm calls.
Over the years, that changed and livestock owners began hauling their animals to the clinic to be treated. And the vets began treating more small animals.
The Martins adopted Purcell as their home and became increasingly active in the community.
Not long after moving here, Tom attended a high school football game. The father of one of the players approached him and asked which Dragon was his son.
And seemed surprised when Tom told him his son was just 2.
“He asked me, ‘Why are you here?’ ‘I just like football,’” Tom replied.
He was booster club president two or three years “before we had anyone in school.”
For 33 years, Tom kept the game stats for Purcell. In the mid-1970s, he also started fixing the head sets before each game.
“I’ve been involved with kids and their athletics for years,” he said.
Two years ago, the Purcell High School alumnae inducted Tom into their Hall of Fame – an unexpected, but very nice, honor.
“I didn’t see that coming,” he said.
In 1974, he bought out the remaining half of the practice. One of the first things he did was purchase an answering machine.
Over the years that followed, as many as four veterinarians at a time worked out of the practice.
Tom became an adjunct professor at Oklahoma State University’s vet school.
“They sent me students on a preceptorship program,” he said.
Tom built living quarters for the students in one of the barns. The program gave students “real life” experience in an active practice for six to eight weeks. He also oversaw a preceptorship program for two or three vet students from Auburn University.
By the time he closed the practice and retired in 2007, Tom was the lone vet at PVH.
He had sold 11 acres of clinic land to Purcell Public Schools for the new high school in 2006. Come 2007 and his secretary had just had a baby and the man helping him took another job.
“I didn’t want to break anyone else in,” he said.
He later sold the remaining five acres and clinic building to the school for the agriculture program.
In 40 years, Tom stored up some memories.
Once a circus was in town and had an ailing camel.
The show called Tom who agreed to treat the animal despite misgivings on how to restrain the beast.
He needn’t have worried. The camel responded perfectly to its trainer’s spoken commands.
And then there were the fighting chickens.
Raising the fowl was a big business in the area at the time, Tom said, and the breeders shipped birds all over the world. Blood tests were required before the breeders could get the health papers necessary for these transactions.
One day a man Tom didn’t know came in with a game cock and requested a blood test.
The procedure called for someone to hold the rooster’s legs while Tom lifted a wing and drew blood.
The man assured him that he could hold the legs.
But when Tom stuck the needle in, the rooster kicked free from the man’s grip and sliced a gash across Tom’s forehead with his spurs.
The wound bled profusely and Tom didn’t especially care for treating fighting cocks after that.
He saw livestock fads come and go – he’s treated llamas and alpacas and other exotics – but cattle were his favorite.
“I had the facilities to handle them,” he said.
The only animal he ever turned away at the clinic door was a badger which had been run over.
“I would leave before my kids got up and come in after they were in bed,” he recalled. “We wore out a lot of trucks driving around the county.”
Seventy-nine now, he doesn’t miss the work which was often hard, long and messy.
He does miss the people.
“I met a lot of good people,” he said, adding he enjoys running into them.
Some still seek his veterinary advice. He understands. It is part of being a vet.
Of three boys who grew up on that Mississippi cotton farm, Tom is the only one left.
One brother remained on the farm. The other flew helicopters in the Marine Corps for eight years before working for Bell Helicopter as a mechanical engineer.
Tom and Pat raised their two children here.
Son Jeff is a teacher and coach at Frisco, Texas. Daughter Faith and her three children live in London.
“We hope she’ll be moving back to the U.S. and we get those grand kids closer to home,” he said.
Neither wanted to become a veterinarian.
“It’s pretty hard work, especially the large animal end of it,” he said. “They had their own roads they wanted to follow.”
These days Tom enjoys his hobbies – golf and fishing.
“It’s been a good life,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed it and look forward to more years.”