Strawn, Texas, is ranch country. The thick cedar and mesquite make for tough cowboys, and Justin Cormack was raised on the Stuart Ranch to be just that.
As a 5-year-old, when his younger brother was born, Justin visited the hospital and the doctor put his smock on the youngster. From that moment on, cowboying would forever be a hobby. He chose medicine as his career.
“Helping our fellow man is one of the most unselfish acts we can do,” Cormack says. “Ranch life and cowboying taught me ethics, hard work, resourcefulness, and critical thinking. There are few places in the United States that need doctors more than the ranching communities west of Fort Worth. People forget, but cowboys need docs, too.”
Justin’s mother, Melanie, is an educator, and encouraged Justin to apply for as many scholarships as he could, including one from the Working Ranch Cowboys Foundation.
“For all eight years of my education, they sent me what they felt like they could,” he says. “They contributed more to my education than anyone.”
Now, married with two daughters, Cormack works at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth as an emergency room doctor.
While it all sounds like a fairy tale—it wasn’t. Two years into Justin’s medical schooling, his father, Paul, suffered massive brain damage as the result of a heart attack. With cows to feed and a ranch to run, Justin suspended his education to help. That was in 2009, just as a severe drought was gripping West Texas. Justin, his mother, and his two brothers were forced to make some tough decisions.
Their neighbors, Robert and Lisa Langford, saw the family’s struggles. As longtime WRCF supporters, they put in a call on behalf of the family. Without knowing why or how, a check showed up in the Cormacks’ mailbox, and then another. They were able to buy feed for their herd, find other ranches to temporarily ship some of them, and pay for day-to-day expenses.
Slowly, the Cormacks were learning to operate without Paul at the helm, so Justin headed back to medical school. Almost immediately, tragedy struck again when wildfires began raging across Texas. The blaze consumed the ranch, dozens of cows were killed, and miles of fence destroyed.
“I was back in medical school, my father was doing worse, and we feared the bank would foreclose on the lease we held on the ranch for 27 years,” Cormack says. “I believe the process broke me a couple of times, but with each horrible experience came opportunity for growth and learning.”
Once again, the WRCF stepped in—unrequested—to offer assistance so the family could begin rebuilding the ranch. Simultaneously, the WRCF continued helping with Justin’s schooling.
“While many see the WRCF ranch rodeos as a form of entertainment, I see the foundation as a family genuinely interested in the welfare of those in need,” Cormack says. “I never thought I would lose my father and have our entire ranch burn down. It’s times such as these, when folks with strong morals and a willingness to give step forward.”
While Paul did pass in 2011, Justin’s younger brother Jake is still running the ranch. Melanie is still shaping future generations of West Texans. Justin is looking west for a mid-sized town to practice medicine in and serve as a base for him to bring his medical expertise to rural regions of the state.
Their family is a perfect example of how a hand-up—not a hand-out—from the WRCF is sometimes all a cowboy needs.
Editor’s note: The WRCF seeks to help the ranching community in crisis. Their primary source of funds is their World Championship Ranch Rodeo. However, they rely heavily on memberships as well. American Cowboy magazine has partnered with the WRCA to raise awareness of the WRCF’s mission. If you would like to help them support working cowboys in times of crisis, become a member by visiting theirwebsite.