Dr. Julie Buzby’s dad—the original Dr. Buzby—had a profound influence on many lives, especially his daughters’. This article, a departure from our usual veterinary stories, is her tribute to her father who passed away suddenly in 2012—just before Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips launched. Julie’s father taught her life skills that have served her well as a veterinarian, mom, and human being, and shape our core values as a company.
I always get a chuckle when someone assumes Dr. Buzby is a fictional character…or a man.
Neither are true. However, the original Dr. Buzby was a man. He was an army chaplain with a Doctorate in Ministry. But more than that, he was my dad.
He passed away in 2012, just months before our company—Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips—officially launched. And a large piece of my soul was buried with him.
I struggled greatly in the weeks and months after his death…to the point where my manifestations of grief caused me to fear that I had a brain tumor. Yet I found purpose in knowing that I would proudly carry on the family name through our small start-up company.
The Buzby Grit
On a daily basis, I use lessons from my dad to survive and thrive. Thinking back to the rigors of vet school, the building of my veterinary clinic from scratch, and the launch of our ToeGrips® business, I found success by emulating my dad. He was a perfect cross between General Patton and Clark Griswold.
When I began the hard labor of transforming the idea for ToeGrips into a real product, a veterinarian coworker said to me, “You’ve got what it takes to make this happen, Julie. You’re a bulldog!” Then he paused and backpedaled…thinking he might have offended me by referring to me as a commonly overweight breed of dog with breathing problems.
But I loved it! I took it as high praise. And, I knew my bulldog tenacity was inherited from my dad. I’m pretty sure that the Apollo 13 directors stole the phrase, “Failure is not an option” from him!
Sewing his way to success
I joke that all veterinarians have to have a bit of “Vet-Gyver” in them to succeed. It’s just the nature of the job. My VetGyver creativity also comes from my dad.
One of his infamous bargains was a three-piece suit he bought at a thrift store for 33 cents. Though the ensemble was on the dollar rack, he rejoiced like a kid on Christmas morning when the cashier told him it was two-thirds off. The suit didn’t fit quite right, but my dad was undaunted. In addition to his talents with duct tape, he was the master of “side seams.”
He could operate power tools and a sewing machine with equal entry level proficiency. In fact, he told me that sewing was just like carpentry without the sawdust. Eventually, my mom had to cut him off from using her sewing machine with a post-it note that read, “Not for leather or canvas!”
A “wealth” of experience on a Greyhound bus
My dad and I were similar in many ways, but we were different too. While he was busy serving our country, I was busy loving animals and plotting my course to veterinary school. And later, as an accidental entrepreneur, I was busy trying to figure out how to turn an idea into a company. It would take every ounce of creative budgeting and scrimping to pull that off. Luckily, my dad had taught me all about that too…
My first exposure to budgeting landed me on a Greyhound bus for three days at the tender age of eleven. My dad was stationed in El Paso, Texas, and we were planning a summer vacation on the East Coast to visit relatives.
Since Dad’s leave was only a fraction of our summer vacation, the plan was for my mom, sister, and me to travel ahead of my dad. Diplomatically, he called a family meeting to work out the details.
“Girls,” he said solemnly, “you have two choices. You can fly to New Jersey, but there won’t be any money left over. Oooorrrr,” he said like a game show host offering the deal of a lifetime, “you can take the bus…and get the travelin’ feeling!”
There was no debate. In our eight- and eleven-year-old naiveté, we opted for the bus, an especially good value since children under ten rode free with a paid adult ticket. My dad saw us off and later took a military flight to meet us.
Our bus trip education
From the get go, ours was an educational trip.
- Culture: I had my first grits at a bus stop in the middle of the night.
- Science: We learned about hemophilia when a poor lady ruptured her shin on the bus steps.
- Physics: Midway through the trip the driver informed us that the bus was full and the “under ten rides free” clause was based on availability. My sister rode from Arkansas to New Jersey on my mother’s lap, illustrating the Law of Displacement.
Three days later we arrived, bedraggled. I think we actually OD’d on “the travelin’ feeling.” And although my mom couldn’t walk normally for a few days, we had spending money!
My dad’s persuasive nature
On the return trip, my dad rode with us. No one remembers why he was bringing soffit across the country on a Greyhound bus. We do remember the altercation with the driver who insisted it be placed under the bus with the rest of the baggage.
Dad was adamant that his bundle of astronomically long pieces of metal be stored in the bus’s overhead compartments. I never saw my dad lose his temper, but with that bulldog passion and persuasion, he argued for the welfare of the soffit.
In the end, that soffit—safely stowed in the climate controlled overhead bins—rode more comfortably across the country than the rest of us.
A good attitude in a bad situation
On July 5, my sister’s ninth birthday, our bus broke down in the middle of Texas. As we sat on the shoulder of the road, the bus’s omnipresent stale aroma transitioned to sweat mixed with despair. We baked like meatloaf under the lights at a cheap all-you-can-eat buffet. We sat for hours. When the damage was finally deemed irreparable, a new bus was sent to retrieve us.
Passengers were testy as they collected their purses, books, and soffit for transfer. My dad took advantage of the idle time by commandeering the bus’s microphone to announce, “I would like to ask you all to join me in singing Happy Birthday to my daughter!”
His enthusiasm inspired a wave of good cheer and spontaneous generosity from our fellow passengers. The number of boxes of travel-sized raisins we received was uncanny.
Of course, he convinced the bus driver to drop us all off along the way at a bench in front of a strip mall instead of going all the way into the heart of town to the bus station. Dad then sprinted home to get our VW Rabbit, so he could come pick us up, bungee the soffit to the roof, and claim victory in the adventure.
My dad, my superhero
As absurd as this sounds, prior to June 2012, I’d never truly realized that close loved ones can just up and die. I was so naive. I struggle to believe that life has gone on without my dad, always the life of the party. And yet I know he’s integral to who I am as a person and who we are as a company.
Perhaps my most favorite memory of my dad was while my parents were stationed in Washington D.C. during the years I was in veterinary school. One crisp winter morning, shortly after Christmas, my dad dropped me off at Dulles airport to catch my flight back to Kansas State University for second semester. I was a few hours early because that’s how he rolled.
But shortly after Dad left, the flight was cancelled. This was before the days of cell phones. I tried for an eternity to sort it out, but there was no way I was flying out that day. It didn’t take me long to become rattled. I was stuck in a chaotic airport with no way back home and no plan. I scrounged up the change to call home on a pay phone. My dad answered, recognized the distress in my voice, and assured me he was on his way. He was, above all, a man of action.
About 35 minutes later I looked up to see my dad, with his long-legged stride, sprinting down the airport corridor to rescue me. An invisible red cape was billowing behind him. He was not a sentimental guy, but I’ll never forget his tenderness that day. Only years later, did it dawn on me that in addition to his concern for his daughter, he was probably sprinting through the building because the airport parking was expensive…but free for the first hour.
For more about Dr. Julie Buzby…
…please read her true and poignant story about a hero pony and a veterinarian in training, How a Pony Helped Pioneer Veterinary Orthotics.