Dr. Herbert Nelson Piper was among the first graduates of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and when he opened a clinic in Fresno more than five decades ago, his gentleness with animals and friendliness with their human owners quickly made his practice one of the busiest in town.
Dr. Piper had a love for animals that began as a child on the family’s farm. He was born in Vacaville in 1921 to Nelson and Florence Piper.
“When you came in with your animal and your animal was sick, he knew he was dealing with the animal but his specialty, I think, was dealing with people,” said daughter Julie Powers Willardsen of Sacramento.
Dr. Piper, 94, died Sept. 15 peacefully in his sleep. He was preceded in death by his parents, brother Nelson Piper, and son Larry Piper.
A high school track star, Dr. Piper put higher education on hold for World War II, where he spent three years in the Army Air Corps. He wanted to be a pilot, but instead instructed B-29 flight engineers in Texas, said daughter Cindy Piper De Lotto of Fresno.
He was accepted into the new University of California at Davis veterinary school in 1948 and was one of 42 graduates in the first graduating class of 1952.
He joined Dr. Donald Barr, now deceased, in a Fresno veterinary practice 63 years ago, but soon had a practice of his own. And in 1961, he opened Cedar Veterinary Hospital, which he continued to own and operate for two decades.
After a couple of years at the Cedar Veterinary Hospital, his practice became so busy that he formed a partnership with Dr. Paul Deauville. The two soon became more than partners, Deauville said. “It wasn’t just business; it was a personal relationship.”
Marie Pimentel of Fresno said Dr. Piper and her husband, Dr. Wilfred Pimentel, were active in the Central California Veterinary Medical Association. Her husband, now deceased, graduated from the second UC Davis veterinary class in 1953. Both vets switched from large animals to small-animal practices about the same time in the 1960s, Pimentel said. Her husband had liked cows and Dr. Piper liked horses.
Her father decided large animals were too high a risk, said De Lotto. His first wife, Virginia Weirick, whom he had married in 1957, had died unexpectedly in 1964, and he had a son and daughter to raise. “He realized he had two small children to take care of and he was getting his nose broke and different things injured from working with larger animals,” De Lotto said.
I never heard him say a bad word about anybody, even if they had done something to him.
After his first wife’s death, the Pimentels played cupid, introducing Dr. Piper to Gertrude Growdon Powers at a bridge game. Powers had lost her husband, and had three children. The couple married in 1966 and the families quickly blended. “He was so kind,” Gertrude Piper said. “And his two little children were just darling little kids.”
In their nearly 50 years of marriage, she never heard him swear, she said. “I never heard him say a bad word about anybody, even if they had done something to him.”
It was less easy accepting the animals that came with marriage to a veterinarian, however. “I wasn’t a dog person before I married him and I never was a cat person,” Gertrude Piper said.
Powers Willardsen was 13 when her mother and Dr. Piper married. She remembers he sometimes brought animals home at night rather than leaving them at his veterinary practice. The family accepted the furry house guests, for the most part, she said. “But one time, there was a rather large dog that he had put in the shower … my mom woke up in the night and there was a dog staring at her in the face.”
Dr. Piper was instrumental in starting Veterinary Emergency Service in 1975, which was the region’s first 24-hour pet service.
He retired from vet practice in 1984, but her father didn’t slow down, De Lotto said. He was involved with Millbrook Presbyterian Church, and with the Rotary Club of Fresno. “That was his spirit, he just wanted to keep contributing,” she said.
Dr. Piper was the first president of Rotary’s environmental committee, Gertrude Piper said. For Rotary, he oversaw the second phase of the Highway 41 mural project, working with high school students on the mosaic-tile project. And he helped develop the “sneezeless garden” now called the Allergy Free Garden at Fresno State.
Her father was humble and likely would be embarrassed by all the comments made about him, De Lotto said. But “he was a Christian man,” she said. “He was always taking care of everyone else.”
Herbert Nelson Piper
Birth: March 31, 1921
Death: Sept. 15, 2015
Occupation: Retired veterinarian
Survivors: Wife Gertrude Piper; sister Shirley Mahlmann; children Cindy Piper De Lotto, Julie Powers Willardsen, Lois Powers Marques, Thomas Powers; and seven grandchildren.
Services: A funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 24 at Millbrook Presbyterian Church, 3620 N. Millbrook Ave., Fresno.