Joseph B. Coulter, DVM, passed from the family, church, friends, profession and city he loved on Wednesday, January 2, 2019. The people he leaves behind will forever miss his wisdom, wit and guidance; the animals he leaves behind have lost the most compassionate veterinarian any creature could have sought.
He was truly a Brownsville son, born in a small house east of town in the winter of 1925. The young Coulter family moved to Mission, Texas in the 1930s, but returned a few years later allowing Coulter and his younger brother, Jim, to complete their education in Brownsville schools. Both would play football for the Eagles when not riding horseback, hunting and fishing along the resacas, and forging life-long friendships.
Coulter graduated from Brownsville High in 1942, just months after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The day after the attack during a school assembly, he and his fellow classmates had been challenged to avenge the atrocities committed in Hawaii. Coulter was ready for the challenge, seeing the opportunity to serve his country as also a form of liberation from the post-Depression days in South Texas. This was a way out. Coulter enrolled in Brownsville Junior College, a course of study that was started only while awaiting his 17th birthday when he would be able to enlist in the Navy. In his 2017 autobiography, he related that this was a better plan than waiting till he turned 18 and was drafted into the Army. He left Brownsville in January 1943 and trained as a machinist mate, extending skills learned at his father’s machine shop near Zaragoza Street in Brownsville. By chance one day in San Diego, he saw a notice seeking sailors to serve in the Navy’s submarine fleet, and his fate was cast. After training in Seattle, his first duty station was Dutch Harbor, Alaska. It was here, in December 1943, that he learned of the untimely death of his father at the age of 45. Letters sent to his mother from Alaska and other Pacific locations spoke of his love and concern for her, his brother and the future they would now have to build in Brownsville without a spouse, father and breadwinner.
At war’s end, with a fresh GI Bill in hand, Coulter returned to Brownsville to plan his future and complete his education. His decision to study Veterinary Medicine allegedly stemmed from the absence of mathematics courses in Texas A&M’s syllabus for aspiring veterinarians, but others aver that he’d been destined to care for animals since a young man. During this study, on a trip home in the summer of 1947, he’d meet a red-headed member of the Loop clan. He and Elaine were married for 63 years until her death in 2011.
Upon graduation in 1950, Coulter and his young bride returned for the final time to Brownsville to begin their life together and to establish his veterinary practice. He was a sole practitioner for a few months before joining Brownsville Veterinary Hospital and spending the next 67 years doing what he loved. He would treat all creatures during his career, from precious family pets to cattle herds on both sides of the Rio Grande to inhabitants of the Gladys Porter Zoo in its early days in the 1970’s. He was the longest licensed veterinarian in the state of Texas until vision complications forced his retirement in 2017. Till that end, the staff and patients of Brownsville Veterinary Hospital were very, very dear to him and a source of great pride.
He embodied the ideals and standards of this nation’s Greatest Generation, valuing faith, family, service and hard work. Brownsville’s Central Christian Church, Chamber of Commerce, North Brownsville Little League, Rotary International, the Port of Brownsville, the International Boundary and Water Commission, Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association are just a few of the worthy organizations to which Coulter contributed his time, talent and perspectives. It is fair to assume each is better because of him.
His faith and devotion to Central Christian Church was unwavering. This precious congregation was there in good times and bad, especially supporting him in times of sadness. They helped shoulder the loss of his firstborn child Steven in 1950, in the passing of granddaughter Lauren in 1985, in the loss of his mother, Mabel at age 100 in 1999, and during the long goodbye to Elaine in 2011. At the end of that arduous struggle, he was extremely fortunate to find a partner to restart his life. He married Betty Houghtaling in 2012, and loved dearly the life they created together and the happiness they shared.
Besides his wife, he is survived by his brother Jim of Kerrville, Texas, his four children: Nancy (Joe) Gayman of Brownsville, Barbara (Paul) Goodman of Gulfport, Florida, CDR Joseph M. “Pepper”, US Navy Ret. (Jill) Coulter of Tampa, Florida, and John (Holly) Coulter of San Antonio, Texas; four grandchildren: Kaitlin Coulter of Newton, Massachusetts, Heather Coulter Jimenez of San Antonio, Joseph B. “Trey” Coulter III of Tampa, and Allen Coulter of San Marcos, Texas and three great-grandchildren: Addyson and Coulter Jimenez and Collin Joseph Coulter-Brown.
In a whispered conversation during a hospital stay, he shared his version of this tribute. “I regret I don’t have enough time to express my thanks to all who have blessed my life, to those who have helped me along the way.” His gratitude included his wife and her extended family, his children and their spouses, the steadfast congregants from Central Christian, but curiously, the first in his list were the Japanese. If there had not been a war, he continued, he would not have been able to have an education, to become a veterinarian, to return to the city he loved and to build the life of service to his God, his family and his community. At 93, the avenger no more, Coulter was just a faithful son of Brownsville expressing love, humility and thanks.
The Coulter family wishes to extend sincere gratitude to Faith and Bobby Boynt, Pam Vidos, and Betty’s children, Cheryl de la Fuente and James Houghtaling, Jr., for all the care and assistance each provided him. Their love, laughter, and compassion lengthened his life by many years, a blessing for us all.
A memorial service will be held at Central Christian Church, 1100 E. Alton Gloor Blvd in Brownsville on Monday, January 7, 2019 at 11:00 a.m. A private graveside service will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, those wishing to commemorate Coulter’s life and memory may do so via donations to Central Christian Church in Coulter’s name or to Donja’s Dogs, a Brownsville 501(c)(3) animal rescue organization that rehabilitates and rehomes abandoned or abused shelter animals. Donations may be sent to Donja’s Dogs, c/o Becky Haley, 4085 N. Central Avenue, Brownsville TX 78526.