Shari Duval

Shari Duval
Shari Duval

February 4, 2021 – Sept. 23, 1945
Ponte Vedra Beach

Shari Duval, 75 years old, had a peaceful passing as she slept on Feb. 4. Cancer was the cause. Her family and three dogs were by her side.

She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Sept. 23, 1945 as Sharon Lee Fink to parents named Melvin and Ruth. She was a graduate of Woodward High School before attending the University of Cincinnati.

She was wife for 25 years to Bob Duval, a PGA Champions Tour victor and Golf Channel analyst. She was mom to Jamie and Brett, stepmother to Deidre and David, and grandma to 11.

She held a variety of jobs throughout her life, including worker in an ophthalmology office, employee for Gibson Greeting Cards, and an original owner of the Players Café in Ponte Vedra Beach. In Jacksonville’s historic communities, Duval was philanthropist, volunteering with and fundraising for charities within the city devoted to veterans, where she learned of the staggering number of warriors who return home suicidal, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In 2011, after her son, Brett Simon, had become one of those traumatized heroes after having served two tours in Iraq in 2005 and 2010, Duval founded K9s for Warriors, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs to disabled American veterans. The charity rescues and trains shelter canines, preparing them to be pets of vets suffering from PTSD, brain injuries, and/or military sexual trauma.

The idea came to Duval to help struggling veterans in this way because, prior to his military service, her son was a member of the Cincinnati Police Department’s K-9 unit. He went to Iraq as an independent contractor for the Department of Defense with a mission of handling dogs that searched for weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, upon his return, he was not the same man. Duval noticed that the only joy she saw in her son’s eyes was when he was with dogs.

Duval’s organization began in a 1,000-square-foot Palm Valley house that she and her husband had purchased on an acre of land. They rescued shelter dogs, and Simon trained them. She reached out on Facebook, looking for struggling veterans to live in the house and partner with the dogs. Three came for three weeks. Their suffering lessened.

It took two years to expand into a bigger house that could accommodate five veterans at a time. Thanks to Duval’s successful efforts in finding donors and supporters of the cause, the expansion continued and within another two years, the need again exceeded the space.

In 2015, the current headquarters in Ponte Vedra opened on nine acres of donated land that encompass enough suites to accommodate 12 warriors per month on their three-week stays, 67 kennel stalls, training grounds, and offices for administration. In 2018, a second campus in Alachua County near Gainesville was donated, featuring nine bedrooms on 67 acres. Plans are underway for a 30-kennel dog training site in San Antonio, Texas. K9s for Warriors is the largest provider of its kind in the United States. The 501(C)(3) has rescued over 1,268 dogs and over 653 warriors whose service spans five branches.

In her lifetime, Duval’s valiant accomplishments in saving dogs on the brink of euthanasia and saving war heroes on the brink of suicide, ushering them toward lives of dignity and independence, did not go unnoticed.

In 2015, Duval was hosted on a CNN segment. In 2017, she held a golden apple, as she was named a winner of a Florida Times-Union EVE award. The following year, Governor Rick Scott toured the K9s campus and gave a press conference there.

In 2017, the same year that she announced her retirement from K9s for Warriors while continuing as a board member, Duval gave a TEDx Jacksonville talk. In 2018, she spent five days in Washington, DC as a selected volunteer to assist in decorating the White House for the holiday season. Less than a year later, she was honored with a Medal of Honor from the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Hundreds of the vets whose lives Duval changed forever for the better, including ones who called her “Mom,” left comments on Facebook in response to her passing, referring to her as “an angel on earth.”

Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s for Warriors, is quoted as saying of Duval, “I’m heartbroken. She was like no one else I’ve ever met, and she changed my life forever.”

“We can say with conviction, Shari’s legacy will live on not only through K9s for Warriors, but through the countless lives and families she helped save,” said Brianna Bentov on behalf of the K9s for Warriors organization.

The Duvals will hold an unannounced private service for Shari. Once COVID-19 protocols are lifted, a public service will take place at The Shari Duval K9s for Warriors National Headquarters in Ponte Vedra.

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