JP at large: My heroes over the years


Jim Plagakis names the people he admires.

My hero was Dolph Hale, the owner of Cook Drug Store. His wife Ella had me fill out an application. She told me later that it was a trick to see how well I spelled. Spelling was important in the 1950s. I shook Dolph's hand and he said, "Your mother tells me that you think you might want to be a pharmacist."

I told him that that was correct and he said, "Come on back and I'll get you started on the most important job a pharmacist can do."

Dolph cleared his throat to get my attention and, when I turned, he handed me a bucket, a pair of rubber gloves, some bathroom chemicals, and a smile. "You will never be too important to clean the bathrooms," he said. "I learned that lesson when I was your age and I still clean the bathrooms today."

I have never forgotten that lesson-my first lesson in a pharmacy. I willingly empty the trash every day I work and I clean dishes left from compounding. I have passed that lesson on to young people and, for some reason, it doesn't go over as well as it did with me.

Winfield Sill, the owner of Wentlings on Main Street, was my second hero. He actually did share pharmacy secrets when I was an intern. Win told me that compounding was a lost art and that pharmacists might as well not even bother to learn. He held up a bottle of Chloromycetin Capsules. "How can we compete with these? They are made perfectly by a machine." Winfield is in Florida now, playing tennis. He'll smile at his compounding prediction when he reads this.

I was a Registered Pharmacist, 25 years old, at my first job in California. Angelo Lazzareshci was my mentor, whether he wanted to be or not. For me, as a boy from provincial Ohio, I found the San Francisco Bay Area as alien as the French Riviera. I walked very slowly, observing it all.

Those were the days of being open from 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM. There was no gate to lock. Three pharmacists worked full time. The union feathered our nest. I made more than twice the money I made in Ohio. There was no computer, of course. We typed everything and calculated every price by hand. Angelo taught me how to play the odds at craps. We had free time. My first foray to Nevada was to South Shore Lake Tahoe. I followed Lazz's lessons and won.

One day, a doctor called in eight prescriptions for a patient. Company policy said that each has to be written on its own blank and that we filled in everything-patient's name, address, phone, etc. I was sitting there, whining and complaining. "Why do we have to write it all down on each prescription?"

Lazz tapped me on the shoulder, "Jim, you said that you wanted to work when you asked for the job."

A light bulb blinked over my head. It was one of my best lessons ever.

the author is a community pharmacist who lives in Galveston, Texas. You can e-mail him at
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