R-C Neighbors: Jill Derby and Steve Talbot say family is important to them
When you first meet Steve Talbot and Jill Derby, it’s hard to imagine that this couple is completely immersed in the hectic day-to-day lifestyle that is so prevalent today.
Their home is tucked under large trees at the base of the Sierra Nevada with a breathtaking view of the Valley. A polite calico cat pads across the floor, and Vanilla, their yellow Labrador retriever, snores while napping in front of a wood-burning stove.
It’s an idyllic scene, but unfortunately, not a common one.
Talbot is a busy veterinarian and partner in Carson Valley Veterinary Hospital, and Derby is a doctor in cultural anthropology and the chair of the Board of Regents of the University and Community College System of Nevada.
They are the parents of two children, Ryan, who is soon to be graduated from Pomona (Calif.) College, and Tobyn, who attends Dunn School in Los Olivos, Calif.
“In our Christmas cards, I wrote the Ryan was a senior at college, Tobyn a senior in high school and Steve and I were just seniors,” said Derby.
“We are part of the Geritol parenting set,” added Talbot. “But, we have always balanced our careers and interests with our family. Family is the most important to both of us.”
Talbot, who is from Bishop, Calif., attended veterinarian school at University of California at Davis. Every time he drove between home and school, he passed through the Carson Valley. He met Dr. Keith Cornforth and joined the practice in 1966, when it was primarily focused on cows and large animals.
“When I first came here, there were 40,000 cows in the Valley and maybe 10,000 people,” said Talbot. “Now those numbers have reversed, and 90 percent of the business is small animals.”
Lovelock native Derby was raised in Los Gatos, Calif., and spent a considerable amount of time at a family home in Glenbrook. After completing college, she went to Saudi Arabia to work for an oil company as a dental hygienist for the employees.
“It fit in with my goal that I wanted to see the world and travel,” said Derby. “I was able to go places and see so many countries. But I also became fascinated with the cultural differences, and as I became immersed in the culture, I learned to see the world from a different perspective.”
Derby provided an example of how cultures react differently. When she visited a friend’s family in Cairo, she bought presents for them. But when she handed out the presents, they were placed, unopened, in a cabinet. Nothing was ever said about them, and Derby felt she had inadvertently offended the family.
“But my friend laughed and said, ‘You silly Americans.’ I learned that it would have been impolite for his family to mention the gifts,” said Derby. “It’s easy to see how there can be misunderstandings between two cultures.”
Derby said that because of this occurrence, and others like it, she became fascinated by human behavior in different cultures and realized that she wanted to spend her life interpreting one culture to another.
After three years in the Middle East, Derby returned to school to study cultural anthropology at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, UC Berkeley, where she studied Arabic, and then UC Davis. Her plan was to become intimate with the culture of the veiled Bedouin women.
“But then along came Steve,” said Derby, who said that she met Talbot through a mutual friend, dentist Gary Williams.
After Talbot and Derby were married in 1973, Derby continued with her studies, maintaining an apartment in Davis, while Talbot worked countless hours at the vet hospital. Derby said that their lifestyle was a little different from the norm in the conservative Carson Valley of the 1970s.
“I think I was considered a little bit of a hippie,” said Derby about their unorthodox arrangements. “Just recently a woman stopped me and said, ‘I know you. You were that ’90s woman who lived in the ’70s.
“But Steve has always been so supportive. Our relationship has worked well because I have never been dependent on Steve to be the center of my life. We had separate lives, and the best part was sharing them with each other.”
“We had so much to talk about, and that is the case today as well,” said Talbot. “Our time together is so full of things to talk about. We have so much to share.”
Even after the children were born, Derby continued working on her academics while she also taught anthropology at Sierra Nevada Community College and Western Nevada Community College. But she found that although she loved academics, a part of her wanted to do something to create a positive influence in her community. She became active in the political arena, especially the Nevada Women’s Political Caucus.
“I worked to encourage women in politics,” said Derby. “I was looking for better gender balance in government.”
In 1988, Derby completed her doctoral work and received her doctorate. The whole family attended the ceremony because “it was a long time coming,” according to Derby. She admitted that she was a little nervous.
“I was sure that I was going to be the oldest,” said Derby. “But then I found out that I was the median age. And some of the people that started at the same time I did have dropped out of the program.”
Derby is the chair of the board of regents, the governing body of Nevada’s community college and university system. She has been the chair for two years, and previous to that, was the vice chair for two years.
“It like being the CEO of a $50 million company,” said Talbot. “Jill works harder than ever.”
“I’m passionate about higher education,” said Derby. “The landscape of higher education has shifted. The traditional student attending four years of school directly out of high school is now the minority. We have to learn to attract the non-traditional student, with night classes and Saturday classes and other options. There are alternative providers of higher education. It is very competitive, and a challenging time for higher education.”
Talbot and Derby’s busy lifestyles have taken a toll on some of their extra-curricular activities, but Talbot says that they still manage to find time for each other.
“We make dates – every Friday night, and we pass notes,” said Talbot as he smiled like a kid still in high school.
“We like to hike and cross county ski,” said Derby. “Every year we climb Job’s Peak together.”
But there are some things that are still on the back burner. Retirement is one of them.
The vet clinic has grown from two to seven vets, and this has allowed Talbot to work only four days a week. But the hours still pile up, usually 45-50 each week.
“I am lucky because I am doing something I love,” said Talbot. “I’ve been able to prolong my practice without the burnout, but I no longer work on large animals. It takes a lot out of you physically, and I hurt more than I care to hurt.”
Derby still has two more years as a regent. In the meantime, her darkroom feels abandoned, the piano and guitar are collecting dust, and Derby confesses to being a yarn collector instead of a knitter.
“I would really like to get back to teaching. I miss that,” said Derby. “I also want to reclaim some of my creative pursuits. It’s been three or four years since I wrote a professional paper, and there are some books in me as well.”
Talbot is using some of his newfound time to fish. And he recently learned how to tie flies.
“I never had the time before. I’m enjoying it,” said Talbot. “But we aren’t ready to think about retirement. We had our children later in life and we are still in the phase of supporting the kids. Besides, Jill and I enjoy what we’re doing. Why should we change a good thing?”