Midtown Raleigh News

An old-school pharmacist bids adieu

Tim White, left, shares a laugh with Bill Wilson, who retired from Hayes-Barton Pharmacy after 47 years. White bought the pharmacy from Wilson in 1989, and Wilson continued working there until Wednesday, Aug. 28.
Tim White, left, shares a laugh with Bill Wilson, who retired from Hayes-Barton Pharmacy after 47 years. White bought the pharmacy from Wilson in 1989, and Wilson continued working there until Wednesday, Aug. 28. jshaffer@newsobserver.com

At age 86, Bill Wilson represents the disappearing breed of pharmacists who delivered medication to sick people’s houses, who got paid mostly in cash and who neither liked nor understood insurance companies.

When he started out at Hayes-Barton Pharmacy, he could tell you the name of every doctor in Raleigh.

He treated five generations of the same family. He had patients, not customers.

And Wednesday, Aug. 28, after 47 years behind the counter, he deciphered his last illegible prescription and wished his final fever-sufferer a speedy recovery.

“I’ll miss the people,” Wilson said, walking out the Hayes-Barton door. “You can only play so much golf.”

Wilson spent his career in Five Points, long the home of Raleigh’s bigwigs. He bought the pharmacy from Hobson Gattis, who’d manned it since 1927.

But when Wilson started there, he figured the stately old neighborhood was sliding past its prime, and he’d spend maybe 10 years where Glenwood Avenue and Fairview Road meet.

That was in 1966. Wilson, movers and shakers all stayed put, and the pharmacist saw himself elected to City Council.

To this day, Wilson operated under the credo that a pharmacist should treat all his patients like a best friend sitting in his living room. As he left Wednesday, patients recalled walking to the pharmacy daily and knowing the name of the man behind the counter – a rarity at chain stores.

“My children are crazy about him,” said Elaine Wood. “And they’re all adults.”

She remembered the time Wilson refused to fill a pediatrician’s order, knowing that his teenage patient had gotten an infection through the same drug more than a decade prior.

“That’s when I still had a mind,” Wilson said.

Time hasn’t always been kind to his generation of pharmacist, the sort who keeps a mental record of patient’s history and makes daily cash deposits in the bank. Wilson never could get the hang of computers.

For that reason, he sold the store to his employee Tim White in 1989 and continued on as a part-time worker.

White had a more modern approach along with the touch of a neighborhood pharmacist. He’d worked in chain stores, and he knew you got better service with a bigger staff. He could also navigate and tolerate the world of prescription drugs in the 21st century.

“He could deal with these insurance companies,” Wilson said. “I really couldn’t do it. I would come to a blank wall. I didn’t like them. I didn’t like the system.”

Said White, “Mr. Wilson is the quintessential gentleman if there ever was one.”

Dealing with insurance companies, he said, “They try to take the ‘best friend’ out of it. Your best friend is mandated to go to mail order.”

And with that, Wilson walked out the door for the last time, able to focus on taking care of himself for a change.

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