Remembering Val Series: 1

There are many “firsts” in rehab.

The first miracle recovery, the first patient of a species, the first time someone actually wins a literal “wild goose chase.” The first of many releases… and the first of many, many losses.

The first year without someone, the first year of the void where they once were.

Tuesday will mark MWR’s first year without our beloved founder Valery Smith. Val was a true hero for wildlife, a pillar of compassion whose work touched countless lives, both animal and human. Not a single day passes that we do not feel her loss keenly.

Yet even in sorrow, there is joy. As we approach the anniversary of her passing, we wanted to share memories of Val from some of her friends in rescue and conservation. If you were blessed enough to know her, we hope you find a piece of the joy she gave to you in these pictures and stories. And if you never had the chance to meet her, may you get a sense of who she was, and how deeply she loved.

From long time volunteer and educator, Kate Friedman:

Val and I were very close friends for almost 20 years. We talked almost every day and I always looked forward to seeing her name on my caller ID.

I first met her in passing a few times during the late 90’s. We later became close friends when I started working at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in 2005. MWR was one of the top exhibitors in Audubon’s annual Hummingbird Festival. The first weekend we met, Val and I started talking about training her education birds. She was so eager to learn, and she already had the patience and ability to read a bird’s body language. She picked it up very quickly!

For years afterwards, I would help MWR with their booth at the Hummingbird Festival. Val would rent a cabin at Wall Doxey State Park for the weekend. Each day after the festival, we returned to the cabin and got all of our birds fed, watered and secured for the night. Then we would heat up something in the microwave and open a bottle of red wine. We stayed up late talking about birds and bird care. We shared stories about our past—some sad, and some happy. We shared hopes for our future, often tossing around ideas for the ARK nature center. Sometimes we talked for hours until we realized we really needed to get some sleep!

The last time I saw Val was a few days before she passed. I was traveling out of the country the next day, and sadly, we both knew that she would pass before I returned.

It was hard. We hugged. We laughed. We cried. We laughed and cried and hugged some more. Before I left her side, I told her that the MWR Board and I would carry on her vision for a nature center and wildlife hospital. She squeezed my hand, gave me a wink and a big smile and said, “I know you will.”

Tags: No tags

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *