It would be romantic to say Randy and Carol Valentine fell in love through the mail, but that’s not quite the way it happened.
What it took was a cat.
It was 1956, and Randy was attending Washington State University, where he would study veterinary medicine. He was away from home for the first time, and a bit lonely.
Carol was training as a nurse at Tacoma General Hospital and had a friend who was engaged to Randy’s roommate.
“Randy had asked his roommate to have his fiancee find a pen pal for him,” Carol said. “I wasn’t interested, but someone else backed out and so I wrote to him.”
Three months of letters produced a date. Randy took Carol to a Christmas dance at the Spanish Castle ballroom between Tacoma and Seattle.
Carol loved dancing. Randy?
“I never had the opportunity to learn to dance beyond the Wenatchee two-step,” he said.
“I wasn’t too impressed,” Carol said. “But we kept writing.”
They got together one summer with Randy’s family on a vacation. Carol loved them. And after a few years, Randy began hinting about marriage.
“I’d lived in Seattle until I was 11, then in Orting with my aunt and uncle after my mother died,” Carol said. “I went to school, and when Randy first proposed, my aunt and uncle suggested I spend a year on my own.
“I’d never been on my own. I wanted to find out who I was, so I went to work in Long Beach, California. We kept writing.”
Randy was working with a veterinarian in Seattle. Next door was an Arthur Murray Dance Studio. He decided taking lessons might help his standing with Carol.
“My dance instructor said if I ever came across a white manx kitten, she’d be happy to trade dance lessons for it,” Randy said. “It so happened I’d seen a litter of manx kittens that morning, and one of them was white.
“I called the owner, and she still had the white kitten. I bought it for $3 and traded it for a full session of $10 dance lessons. Best deal I ever made.”
That night, Randy telephoned Carol in Long Beach — an expensive long-distance investment in 1959.
“He said, ‘Guess what I did?’ and told me the story,” Carol said. “I started crying; it was so sweet. I hung up and told my friends, ‘I’m going to marry that man!’ ”
On Feb. 14, 1960, she did.
They moved to Spanaway, near where Randy and a friend from WSU opened a clinic for large animals that became VCA Parkway Animal Hospital.
Randy often did surgery on horses and cows, and he once rebuilt the shoulder of a llama. Carol would often be his nurse.
In the early years of practice, he was on call. That often meant late-night barn calls.
“One night, I was taking care of a cow with milk fever, and the owner had a couple of 40-acre pieces of land on either side of his farm,” Randy said.
The Valentines bought 14 acres from him, including a few acres on Stoney Lake, and later bought 26 more. Together, they raised three sons and made the most of the land and the lake.
Animals were always part of their lives.
“Over the years, I took care of Ivan the Gorilla when he broke a big toe and an elephant from B&I in Tacoma that wouldn’t eat,” Randy said.
“There were lions who were the mascots of units at Fort Lewis in the ‘60s. We had to make calls a few times to figure out how to anesthetize them, but we took care of everything that came in.”
Randy, 79, and Carol, 76, are now semiretired. Once or twice a month, he does a surgery.
They have moved to Gig Harbor, found new interests.
Like tractor pulls.
“We’ve got three tractors, all of them restored and modified, all Olivers, and we’ve competed since 2004,” Randy said, then laughed. “ You spend all this time and money finding the tractors, working on them, modifying them, so you can win a $1 ribbon.”
On Valentine’s Day, the Valentines will celebrate their 54th anniversary.
The kicker? Randy remains a bit amazed by seeing that white manx kitten the same day he started his dance lessons, and with good reason.
“I practiced more than 40 years and never saw another one,” he said.