Longtime Pharmacist Looking to Retirement
Longtime pharmacist Jim Phillips has a handheld metal device in his office that hearkens back to long ago days as a young man who provided prescriptions for decades to folks in Tyler County.
“I don’t think you’ll find anybody, unless they are my age, who knows what this is. No one uses these things any more. Back then, you put a small piece of paper in between the clamps and then put the powder inside that paper and fold it over,” said Phillips, 80, who has been owner and pharmacist for 51 years at Phillips Pharmacy in downtown Sistersville.
Phillips plans on retiring during the early part of next year. As with anyone who has spent a lifetime working and working hard to serve the community, Phillips said his future plans are uncertain.
“It’s hard – I’m concerned about that too,” Phillips said. “When you’ve been working almost 60 years, well, you have to figure that out.”
Tacked to a wall near Phillips’ desk, there is a map with different colored pins sticking out of places across the globe where he has visited. Phillips said maybe he’ll travel more and get more rest, maybe.
In another corner of Phillips’ office, there are small glass medicine jars with cork-like lids a far cry from the child-proof medicine bottles used today.
There is a Prohibition era prescription tacked to his wall that Phillips purchased long ago. He said the era when alcohol was prohibited was long before his time, but this particular note makes him smile because it is prescription for whiskey.
Apparently back then, whiskey had medicinal uses for those who needed a nip – a taste that was legally prescribed.
Phillips is a third generation pharmacist. His grandfather, George Phillips, started dispensing drugs in St. Marys around the time of the Spanish American War in 1898. His father, Lyle Phillips, took over the business. Jim Phillips took up the trade in 1957 after graduating from the WVU School of Pharmacy when he started working for his father at the family’s pharmacy in St. Marys.
Phillips bought his own shop, one known to many in Tyler County, on July 1, 1964, where he has been located ever since on Wells Street – 51 years.
“What kept me going? I loved doing it,” he said. “I love working with the people. I love helping people. When I finish the day and feel I didn’t help somebody, it wasn’t a complete day. I always felt that.”
Phillips’ grandson, Drew, works behind the counter at the pharmacy these days before heading to medical school next year. Husband and wife duo, Brian and Lindsay Camerlin, both pharmacists, are taking over as owners of Phillips Pharmacy.
“I’ve had to slow down, so Brian has come into help me out,” Phillips said. “Brian was handpicked by me because I knew that he would take care of my customers and my employees. He would do a great job for the town.”
Brian Camerlin of Sistersville, the son of Rindy and Paul Camerlin, graduated in 1998 from Tyler Consolidated High School.
“I always wanted to stay close to home,” said Camerlin, 35, who graduated from WVU School of Pharmacy in 2005. “I’m glad Jim offered me the opportunity to be back in town. My wife and I are excited about running a mom and pop type of business.”
Inside Phillips’ office, there is an old clock face that used to mounted on a wall outside the Wells Inn decades ago. Time was, doctors Ralph Boone and Elliott Thrasher, who is now deceased, did house calls after hours and pharmacists worked late hours to provide medicine.
“They used to work a lot of times to 11 o’clock at night,” he said. “I’d stay right here with them until they closed up. We’d open up at again at 9 o’clock in the morning and five hours on Sunday. That’s a lot of hours. But that was the way it was. I put in a lot years at 70 hours a week.”
Boone said of his old friend, “Jim was reliable, accomodating to anyone who was really in need.”
And on more than a few occasions, Phillips’ had to provide the medicine to patients who needed care long after the sun went down and his shop had closed.
“I was called out a lot during my time,” he said. “After hours, people would need medication and I would come to the store. They needed their medicine, so they would call me and I would come down.”
Times have changed in the pharmacy business. Phillips said there is a lot more regulation and insurance companies, as well as the government, are involved more. And computerization is by far the biggest change, he said. But some things stay the same.
“I still know our people behind the counter know most of our customers on a first name basis,” Phillips said.
Next to the clock face, there was a small piece of paper with a lot of familiar names is attached to the wall. The document lists the directors of a local bank where Phillips served as a director for many years alongside Tyler County’s leading citizens. He said almost none of those people are living now, but it was almost as if he could see them in his mind’s eye along with how Sistersville has changed since he was a young man.
“That’s some history too for another story someday,” Phillips said feferring to the clock face and the changes made downtown. “When you go back that far – 51 years – you’ve seen a lot in this town.”
The longtime country doctor said Phillips’ service to others made him essential.
“Absolutely – he was a benefit to the community,” Boone said. “He was entirely capable and well-trained. Not only did he have a good store, but he took part in community affairs.”
A good man can look back on his life who can say he’d do it all over again.
“Oh yes,” Phillips said. “I liked it. It wasn’t all good. There were tough times, a lot of tough times, but it was good for me. And I had excellent employees. I think we made a difference in the community – my employees and me – it was all about the team.”