As you know, I just retired from 38 years as a Pharmacist. I was fortunate that I got to practice a variety of Pharmacy settings, including Home Infusion, Retail, Chain, Chain Management, HMO, Consulting, as well as about 15 years outside the practice of Pharmacy in Health Care Administration. My only small claim to fame is that I was one of about three guys who founded First Data Bank, now the gold standard in automated drug information and pricing. I published a few papers, gave numerous lectures, taught at UOP School of Pharmacy for some years, and even spoke frequently on the radio.
The town Pharmacist, Gordon Satterberg, was a role model for me at first. He was well respected, made a good living, and was a strong civic leader. He gave me my first job in a Pharmacy, where I did everything from deliveries, to billing, to filling prescriptions. When he sold the store to Don Workman years later, Don and I became friends, as he mentored me as well.
The first Pharmacies were said to have started in Baghdad in the 13th century. By the 18th century, Pharmacies developed as centers for medicines and healing. Even Benjamin Franklin had a job selling herbs and medicines in a mercantile store. He included medical advice in his Poor Richard’s Almanac, where he coined the phrases, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. By the way, did you know that Pharmacy is the second oldest profession? I will bet you know what is the oldest profession, right?
Several years ago, in surveys determining the most trusted professional, the Pharmacist has ranked at the top. We were above physicians, dentists, lawyers, clergy (no surprise there), accountants, law enforcement, teachers, and housewives. It has pretty much remained that way through this century. Just when we get some respect, I have to retire. What rotten luck!
Dante, the famous Italian poet, joined the Florentine apothecary guild, perhaps only because guild membership was required to participate in city politics. Sir Isaac Newton served as an apprentice in an apothecary shop, before he went on to Cambridge to study mathematics and physics. Imagine what a great Pharmacist he could have been?
O. Henry, aka William Sydney Porter, the American short story writer, also was a licensed apothecary in North Carolina. Before he became a writer, he also spent three years in jail for embezzlement. I actually read Peer Gynt by the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, who was both an apothecary apprentice and am assistant pharmacist.
Perhaps our most famous Pharmacist was Senator and Vice President (under Lyndon Johnson) Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. As you know he actually ran for President of the U.S. He had a brief career as a Pharmacist in his Dad’s store in South Dakota. On the dark side, Benedict Arnold owned an apothecary shop in New Haven, Connecticut. During the war, he was a brilliant military tactician before deciding to become a traitor.
The history books are full of others, as here is a partial list: Charles Alderton (invented soft drink Dr. Pepper), Charles Walgreen (founder of Walgreens Pharmacy), John Pemberton (inventor of Coca Cola), John Boot (founder of Boots Chemists), John Keats (author, poet), Agatha Christie (mystery writer), and Harvey Whitney (founder of the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists).
Probably one of the most famous pharmacies is Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota. Started in 1931, it is a sprawling shopping mall with drug store, restaurants, gift shops and other retail stores. Business was slow until the owner’s wife decided to offer free ice water for tourists on the way to Mt. Rushmore. But Wall drug earned its fame through self promotion in the form of billboards along hundreds of miles of highways in South Dakota and neighboring states. By 1981, Wall Drug claimed to give away 20,000 cups of ice water per day during the busy season.
The second most famous pharmacy was located at 8024 Sunset Boulevard, in West Hollywood, CA. Owner Leon Schwab claimed that Lana Turner was discovered while sitting at the counter of the Schwab’s Pharmacy soda fountain. The famous author, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a heart attack there while buying cigarettes. Rumor has it that actor William Holden hung out there reading magazines and smoking. And the Holy Grail of discoveries, Norma Jean (Marilyn Monroe) was a frequent customer until she was discovered. Others spotted there include: Mickey Rooney, Orson Welles, Ronald Reagan, the Marx Brothers, Judy Garland, Cher, Linda Ronstadt, Ida Lupino and Ava Gardner, who actually landed a job working at Schwab’s soda fountain.
The most unusual pharmacy I have encountered is in Alameda, CA. I was helping a guy who put a Pharmacy into their family Ace hardware store. The Pharmacy was off to the side, but right in the middle of lawn equipment, hammers, and pool supplies. It took some getting accustomed to. But, I could buy my home repair items during the lunch hour.
I also had the privilege to fill a prescription that was reimbursed by the state for $1,000,000. It was anti hemophilic factor for a patient who was having a total hip replacement, and needed AHF for 3 months. Oh, and I forgot to tell you, you paid for it. Yes, the state of California reimbursed me through its Genetically Handicapped Persons Program (GHPP). In the old days, we also placed prescription labels on bottles of wine for consumption in nursing homes. It was intended to stimulate the apetite of the geriatric patients.
The most unusual prescription that I compounded was cocaine vaginal suppositories. I was only a month or two out of school. They (mostly my boss) figured I could do it better than the old timers. It was a very hot summer day, and the cocoa butter melted as fast as I could place it in the suppository mold. We also made alot of special formula powedered items that were placed in folded paper. I actually was reminded of this at Augusta National Golf Course in Georgia. They actually sell headache powders at the concession stands there. I once made a treatment for lice with DDT in talcum powder.
My first boss out of school was a tough Irishman named Bob McPeak. Bob was tough on everyone, including himself. But he was the best role model, because he demanded the best from us. He set a high standard that had to be met, or we would be forced to do it again. I was able to thank Bob for these many lessons a few years ago. He even told my Dad once that I was a hard worker! He has since retired, gone to law school, and was fighting throat cancer. It is quite a legacy.