CHESTER -- James "Crack" Anderson spent the last day of his life in much the same way he spent the 40 years before it: tending to animals at the veterinary clinic that opened its doors to seemingly every dog and cat ever raised in Chester.
If Anderson had known these would be his final moments, friends and co-workers say he would've been just fine with that. The man known by everyone as Crack never met a four-legged creature he didn't love and never treated an animal he didn't try his best to save.
"He charged about half what most folks do for whatever he was doing," said lifelong friend Willis Crain. "He tried to keep it within the price range of the people he was dealing with. A lot of people came to him who couldn't afford someplace else. But don't get me wrong, a lot of people came because he was a good veterinarian."
Anderson, 74, died early Wednesday at his home after years of declining health. He leaves a wife, Betty, two grown children and untold generations of family pets who lived under his care.
All morning and into the afternoon, friends shared hugs and memories at the clinic he opened on Columbia Road in 1964. If Crack had been there, he might've asked the crowd to move out of the way -- so his staff could get back to taking care of the patients.
"We have sick animals we're trying to send home," said Vickie Oates, who managed the office for Anderson for the past 15 years. "We can't forget 'em because Crack's not here."
Cats, dogs, horses, pigs
For years, Anderson was the only veterinarian in Chester, and folks would drive from miles around so their ailing pets could be seen. They brought cats, dogs and the occasional horse, though assistant William "Tater" Oliver remembers the afternoon when an unusual pair of patients arrived for treatment.
"This one time, a fella came into the clinic and wanted us to cut his two pigs," Oliver recalled. "We neutered his pigs. Fella looked at him and said, 'How much do I owe you?' Crack looked at him and told him we didn't need any money."
That was classic Crack, not accepting any money even for the more unpleasant services he provided. The other thing Anderson wouldn't accept was giving up on an ailing animal too soon. Over the years, he put many to sleep, but not without exhausting all other options.
"That was always the last resort," said Russ White, who helped out around the clinic since he was 12. "He'd say, 'Let's try one more thing before we give up on it.'"
The irony in Anderson's career is that he was allergic to cats and dogs. He took medicine to treat the symptoms, and neither allergies nor old age could keep him away, even on the day before he died.
"He tried retirement a couple of times, and it never really did pan out for him," said Lee Oliver, Tater's brother.
One of the great mysteries of Anderson's life will linger on: The origin of his nickname. Crain, a grade-school classmate, swears he doesn't know, even though he spent his entire life as Anderson's closest friend.
"Nobody else does either," Crain said. "He's always been Crack Anderson to me. That's the way it'll stay."