By Luaine Lee
Tribune News Service
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Terri Irwin says that when she first met Steve she never thought anything would come of it. After all, they lived 7,000 miles apart.
It’s not every day you can stop off at a tiny zoo in the middle of nowhere and find the love your life. But that happened to Terri Irwin. Irwin is the widow of the famous “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, who was killed 12 years ago by a poisonous stingray.
Terri Irwin is carrying on his work which began, she says, when she visited Queensland, Australia, with some friends 27 years ago. “I was kind of asleep in the car. And they said, ‘You want to stop and see this little wildlife park?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s probably kind of sad. I don’t know if I want to go in.’
“Then I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t want to not see it, I’ve come all this way.’ So I went in,” she recalls.
“And it opened up to small but beautiful grounds, with peacocks and kangaroos wandering around. And there was a man at a demonstration talking about crocodiles. And he said things about crocodiles I didn’t know. Like he said they’re really beautiful mothers, they’re very caring toward their offspring and very compassionate toward each other. When crocodiles find a mate, they’re very kind to each other. I thought, ‘I never would’ve thought that about crocodiles.’ I went and talked to this man some more. And we ended up talking all day. And, of course, that was Steve.”
At that time Terri had no interest in leaving her home in Oregon and her job as head of her family’s construction-related business, a position she’d assumed at 20. Always goal-oriented, Irwin had managed to double up on her mortgage payments, winning her home free and clear at 25. (She’d majored in business but always nurtured a passion for animals.)
“The family business afforded me the ability to do wildlife work and I worked with predatory mammals in the states, and so Steve and I had a lot in common when we met. I was also working at an emergency veterinary hospital treating animals at night and on the weekends. I worked as a vet nurse, worked in business and had my own rehabilitation facility for wildlife. I was very busy and very happy. That’s what Steve and I had in common and really hit it off.”
She never thought anything would come of it. After all, they lived 7,000 miles apart. “When I would date someone from another town I would say, ‘Don’t get too serious because I will never move.’ When I met Steve I really wasn’t looking. I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to get married. I’m happy with my life. I’m busy. Then I met Steve and it all changed instantly.”
In a life full of permutations, her life has changed again. She and her daughter, Bindi, 20, and son, Robert, 14, are starring in a new series, “Crikey! It’s the Irwins,” airing on Animal Planet. Steve Irwin’s original show, “The Crocodile Hunter,” was broadcast on the same channel, and Terri says they never lost touch.
“And it just seemed like the stars lined up,” says Irwin, who’s wearing a khaki safari suit. “They were now looking for the type of work that we’ve been doing all along to be back on television. Bindi and Robert are old enough now. Bindi’s through school, and Robert is two years ahead in school, so he’s almost done now. And it seems like the perfect time for that life-work balance,” she says.
“And no time is more important than now to get the message out about protecting our wildlife and wild places because we’re starting to realize that to have clean water and fresh air and these resources, we have to protect them.”
A year ago, she says, she was approached by Animal Planet. “They said, ‘Would you ever want to do another show about how you’re carrying on Steve’s legacy?’ And we said, ‘Absolutely, we’d be happy because these folks are like family with us and Steve and I worked with them for over 10 years.”
Both Bindi and Robert share their dad’s Australian accent, but Terri still sounds like she’s fresh out of Eugene, Ore. As unusual as her first encounter with Irwin was, she says it was his cocky Aussie attitude that attracted her.
At their first meeting, she remembers, “He was a bit cheeky. He said to me, ‘Would you like to meet my girlfriend?’ I said, ‘Sure,’ and thought, ‘Oh, no, he has a girlfriend.’ And he said, ‘Hey, Sue.’ And out came his little dog, Suey. That was his way of letting me know that he was single too.”
A month after they met, Steve trekked to Oregon to visit her and her relatives on Thanksgiving. “And all my family liked him. He could talk football, and he helped with the dishes, and he just did everything. He was so lovely. He was wonderful, and as the years went by, we were back and forth a bit.”
Eight months after she sleepily dragged herself from the car to visit that remote little zoo, Terri and Steve Irwin were married.