Brimble Legacy Lives On

A single gunshot. It was an event that helped Dr. Bob Brimble make the decision to become a veterinarian more than 50 years ago.

Not a gunshot wound inflicted on one of his pets, but one that hit his leg while serving in the military overseas in China during World War II. Instead of traveling 10 days by pack mule to the nearest doctor, he chose to be treated by a veterinarian who came to his aid after traveling five days for help.

That decision cost him a Purple Heart medal, which are only given to soldiers treated by a physician, but gained Washington State University and the veterinary profession a skilled and dedicated animal doctor.

But when Bob enrolled in then Washington State College’s veterinary program in 1945, it was not his first time at the school, nor his first degree. Bob, Originally from Coulee City, Wash., first attended WSU in 1939 with plans to become a teacher.

Later during his junior year, sparks flew when he met a girl in chemistry class named Maryhelen Laney, who was enrolled in the pharmacy program. The couple dated from then on and in 1942, he graduated from WSU with a bachelor’s degree in physical education.

Bob had been in the ROTC for four years during college, so after graduation he entered the Army as an infantry lieutenant and served in China for three and half years as a liaison officer with Chinese troops during the opening of the Burma Road. While away, Maryhelen graduated with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in 1943 and worked as a pharmacist in Everett, Wash., for two years while she awaited his return.

“He was down in the jungle fighting,” Maryhelen said. “I wrote to him every day, and one time when he got back to camp, he had 100 letters waiting for him.” When Bob was discharged as a major from the Army in 1945, he and Maryhelen married that May. 

“I do not want to teach,” Maryhelen recalled Bob saying to her soon after he returned. She asked him what he wanted to do and he said ‘I want to be a veterinarian,’ and told her of his life-changing experience of injury and recovery while in China.

Though his decision meant four more years of school, Maryhelen encouraged Bob to pursue his new career aspirations. “Don’t always wish you had,” she told him about foregoing his dream of becoming a veterinarian.

So five months after their wedding, they drove from Ft. Benning Army base in Georgia back to WSU. Maryhelen worked at Higgins Drug Store in Pullman while Bob was in school and in 1950, he graduated a second time from WSU with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.

Since then, Dr. Brimble has spent more than 35 years as an animal doctor. He has had an amazing career treating both large and small animals while managing the ups and downs of a highly successful practice.

His experiences range from having his medicine freeze between rushing from his car to a sick cow in Montana, to being hospitalized for 98 days in traction with a crushed femur in his leg from an accident that occurred while trying to treat a horse. He also co-owned the Town and Country Animal Clinic in Portland, Ore.

“He loved it all,” Maryhelen said, even the “leftover” animals he used to let his kids, LeAnn and Randy, take home from the clinic when they were young.

Bob and Maryhelen are retired now, but they have not forgotten WSU and still recall their life in Pullman very fondly. “WSU was very good to us,” Maryhelen said. “If it hadn’t been for WSU, we would never have been able to accomplish what we did.”

To demonstrate their appreciation and love for animals, the veterinary profession and their alma matter, Bob and Maryhelen have given generous gifts to the WSU Veterinary College. As Benefactors of Washington State University, the Brimbles will establish a significant endowment to repair, maintain, replace, and purchase much needed equipment that will advance and benefit small animal medicine teaching and research.

“Animals were certainly a big part of our life, and they are for a lot of people,” Maryhelen said. “This seemed like something we could do to give back.” Dean Warwick Bayly, echoed the sentiment, “This gift could not have come at a better time and given the current legislative and budget situation. A gift like this is especially meaningful as it provides the college with the security of knowing that the funding for equipment needs to enhance teaching and research will continue to be a priority for donors.

“Support like this allows the college to maintain the level of excellence in teaching and research our students and constituents have come to expect. Bob and Maryhelen’s foresight is a good example of the values and commitment that are representative of the veterinary profession. For this, we are deeply grateful.”

Give now to the “Robert and Maryhelen Brimble Endowment for the College of Veterinary Medicine