Animals have played a huge part in former Dannevirke vet Frank Beckett's life.

It was the death from colic in 1938 of his beloved family Clydesdale Chappie which led an eight-year-old Frank decide to become a vet, one of 12 who graduated in 1955 from a vet school in Sydney. And it was a call to neuter Mae's mother's rare pedigree cream Persian cat at Matakana which sparked a fine romance, which led to the couple's wedding six months later.

Frank Beckett and his wife Mae (nee Nicols) cutting their wedding cake on May 25, 1957.
Frank Beckett and his wife Mae (nee Nicols) cutting their wedding cake on May 25, 1957.

"I've talked to a lot of vets who say they experience that flash as an eight year old to become a vet, and Mae and I were set up on a blind date by friends," Mr Beckett said.

He moved to Ashburton, but after a six-month long-distance romance on May 25, 1957 at Matakana, the entire district turned out for the wedding between Frank and Mae, the post office exchange operator.

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Chappie the family Clydesdale who's death from colic sparked an eight-year-old Frank Beckett's desire to become a vet.
Chappie the family Clydesdale who's death from colic sparked an eight-year-old Frank Beckett's desire to become a vet.

"I don't even know where the 60 years went," Mae said. "We've both had a love affair with animals and in marriage you've got to be tolerant. Things always work out."

After their marriage Mae moved to Ashburton with Frank before they moved to Dannevirke in 1962. Mr Beckett worked for the Bush and Southern Hawke's Bay Vet Club until 1969/70 before working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

"I was on the only vet employed here by the Ministry to run the brucellosis scheme," he said.

"In those early days as a vet in Dannevirke farm advisers had told farmers to put on 10 more dairy cows and urea.

"They weren't here when the spring hit and we had cows with grass staggers everywhere," Mr Beckett said. "The phone would go at 5am and I'd be off and Mae would answer the phone until the office opened. She was my great support, even with two little kids to care for."

In those days it wasn't unusual for vets to have 18 calls in a day.

"Sometimes Frank didn't come home for lunch," Mrs Beckett said.

And there were sacrifices to be made as the wife of a local vet.

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In June 1962 Mr Beckett was looking forward to taking his wife to the Hunt Club ball.

"We had the tickets, Mae had a new, long frock, I had my dinner suit and a baby sitter was organised," Mr Beckett said. "Then at 5pm the phone rang. It was Ansel Peat at Te Rehunga. He had three cows dead, five down and more staggering. Poor Mae didn't get to the ball."

Mr Beckett didn't get home until 2pm but it wasn't to be the first or last time Mae would be left like Cinderella, not making the ball.

In 1972 Mr Beckett and vet Alan Diack were sent to Great Britain and Northern Ireland to organise the shipment of four new breeds of exotic sheep.

Although concerned about leaving Mae at home, she reassured him she'd be all right.

That project and the sea journey home became the subject of a book, Two Shepherds Who Lost their Sheep, by Mr Diack. Although there were complex problems associated with selection, certification, quarantine and finally shipping a flock of 110 sheep back to New Zealand, it all went well and the sheep were off-loaded and went into quarantine on Somes Island.

Sadly, in 1977 long after their association with the sheep had ended, it was discovered one had scrapie, so the whole flock was slaughtered to avoid putting the entire New Zealand flock at risk.

"It was $30 million down the drain," Mr Beckett said.

Mrs Beckett is well-known in Dannevirke for her love of music and her ability on the piano.

"She's been a wonderful vet's wife," her husband said.