When Françoise Tyler and William Draper met at Tuskegee University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, they couldn’t have known what was coming.
The two married after vet school in 1993, but didn’t date during their time as students. According to Tyler, something changed around graduation.
“We were best friends in vet school, right up until we graduated,” said Tyler, an Atlanta native. “And then, I guess our eyes opened up.”
The two vets now run a series of practices called The Village Vets, the first of which they started in 2000. That first practice was made up of just the two of them and a couple of other employees, but now they have seven practices in the Atlanta area, one in Pennsylvania, and around 170 employees, according to Draper. Their newest practice is The Village Vets: Avondale Estates, where they primarily work at the moment.
Of the two, Tyler was the one who knew she wanted to be a vet from a very young age. She had an interest in science and math and said she couldn’t really remember a time where being a vet wasn’t on the brain.
“I was interested in medicine in general,” she said. “My dad is a retired orthopedist, so when I was little, I got to hang around with him and go see patients. I always heard about his cases, and it was very interesting.”
Draper, on the other hand, had a bit of soul-searching to do before figuring it out. Born in Inglewood, Calif., he recalled a trip he took to Tuskegee with his family at age 11. Both his parents and grandparents had met at Tuskegee, and Draper was eager to follow in their footsteps. He thought that he wanted to be an engineer, just like his father.
“We happened to be in Tuskegee when I was 11, and [my father] was going over to the engineering building,” Draper said. “I walked over there with him because I wanted to see where I was going to school, and he said to me, ‘I’ve been thinking about that. To be an engineer, you really have to have a good grasp of math. And you don’t.’”
After dishing out that tough truth, Draper’s father suggested that his son put his science skills and his love of animals to use and think about veterinary medicine. The rest is history.
While the practice came first, Tyler and Draper were soon presented with an interesting opportunity; a television show. Draper said the television network Nat Geo Wild approached the couple and asked them to take part in a show called “Love & Vets.”
“They were looking for a married vet couple in a major market who owned their own practice, and they found us,” Draper said.
The show ran for one season of three episodes in 2017 and didn’t get picked up for more. But now, with the show available for streaming on Disney+ and rental on other streaming services, Draper said he’s noticed a slight resurgence in its popularity.
“It’s funny, people will come to me and tell me they’ve seen … all eight episodes,” Draper said. “And I’m like, ‘There are only three.’”
The couple thought about trying the television lifestyle again after that spike in popularity, but ultimately decided not to. They still had children in school at the time, and Tyler in particular said she couldn’t see a way to make it work.
“I pride ourselves on being involved parents, and it was getting in the way,” Tyler said.
Balancing Family with Work
Now that the couple’s children are older and out of the house, balancing family life with work responsibilities has become a bit easier. But that wasn’t always the case.
“When they were smaller, I will say that I struggled,” Tyler said. “Will and I come from the old school thought that you work, you work, you work. Especially being business owners, it’s your responsibility. Ultimately, everything eventually falls on your shoulders. I took that to heart, and Will too.”
Running both a business and a family can take its toll on anyone. Tyler said she felt a pressure to excel at both of her jobs and at times found it difficult to thread the needle of being there for her patients and being there for her children in equal measure. She remembered that when two of her daughters were both playing softball, there were times when she would mix up who had a game and who had practice, and accidentally send them off in the wrong uniforms.
“I wanted to do 110% for both jobs, as a vet and as a mom,” Tyler said. “But I struggled. I was running, I mean literally, physically running, out of the hospital, or to this game, or back to the hospital.”
The couple both said they wouldn’t have gotten by without the help of their friends and family, and despite any mix ups or times when they were running on fumes, they made it work and showed up for their kids.
“Fran and I are a great team, and somebody was always at that game,” Draper said. “Somebody was always at that dance recital. We made sure that they saw us there and that we were involved.”
Both Tyler and Draper talked about the responsibilities they felt being a successful minority couple in a predominantly white profession. According to Data USA, 81.9% of veterinarians in 2019 were white and non-hispanic. In the same year, 67.3% were female.
“One of the things that is important to Fran and me – and we take it seriously and understand it’s a responsibility we have just because of who we are – is the fact that we’re minorities in a profession dominated by old white guys, and now by young to middle-aged white women,” Draper said. “There’s still people to this day … that will come in and have never seen a Black veterinarian before.”
Draper said that because of that reality, he thinks if the proper vehicle for a television show ever came around and didn’t invade the couples’ lives as much, he might think about taking it on.
“We understand our responsibility to use the gift of this great profession to encourage other young minorities to pursue positions in medicine and the sciences,” Draper said.
You can learn more about The Village Vets online.