Familiar name behind plan to open drugstore in Berryville

Posted: December 10, 2012

The Winchester Star

Laura White and her daughter Patricia are opening a new pharmacy in downtown Berryville in the storefront of Berryville Optometry at 33 W. Main St. The optometry business will relocate to the back of the building. Laura’s late husband, Eugene White, operated a pharmacy in the town for many years. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

BERRYVILLE — It’s back to the future on Main Street.

The “patient-centered pharmacy” that the late Eugene White pioneered here a half-century ago is being brought back to the town where it all began by his widow and daughter.

Clarke County residents Laura White and daughter, Patricia, a pharmacist like her father, will open the Battletown Pharmacy at 33 W. Main St. after the first of the year.

Berryville, population 4,185, has been without a prescription pharmacy since March, when Randy and Sharon Vinson sold their Berryville Pharmacy at 8 W. Main St. to CVS Caremark and the files were transferred to a CVS store on Berryville Avenue in Winchester.

Since then, town officials have been working to attract another pharmacy.

And it looks like Berryville may have two next year.

In addition to the Whites, James Reed plans to open another branch of his Reed’s Pharmacy chain on Crow Street.

Eugene White, who retired in 1998 and died in 2011, set the world of pharmacy on its head when he removed the traditional “drugstore” trappings of soda fountains and gift cards from his shop at the corner of Main and Church streets and replaced them with something more akin to a doctor’s office, with a quiet consulting space to meet with patients.

His innovations included a record-keeping system that tracked all medications taken by his patients, from all their doctors — a revolutionary move in a day when pharmacists were expected to be seen and not heard when it came to patient care.

When Shenandoah University opened its pharmacy school, it honored White for his work in raising the status of the professional pharmacist, as well as protecting patients from harmful, unexpected drug interactions.

To show its respect for White’s achievements, the Bernard J. School of Pharmacy at SU displays the furnishings of the pharmacy he ran for 41 years on Berryville’s Main Street and offers a scholarship in his name.

In the years before his death, Eugene and Laura White made a point to meet the students who received that scholarship.

After his death on Dec. 9, 2011, Laura White attended a scholarship luncheon meeting the next spring with her daughter, and that’s when the seed for the new Battletown Pharmacy was planted.

They met a current scholarship recipient, William “Bo” Spires, a former electrical engineer from Georgia who had decided to change careers. He is currently pursuing degrees in pharmacy and business administration at SU.

Both women were impressed by Spires’ dedication to patient service and his desire to work in a small town.

Spires “shares Gene White’s vision,” Laura White said.

She credits her daughter with the idea of opening a pharmacy in Berryville — it’s a service the town needs, and Patricia offered to run the business until Spires graduates in 2014.

Laura White said Spires “will undoubtedly continue Gene’s legacy of making his patients’ health needs his first priority.”

Looking back, Laura White said Berryville and Clarke County had supported her and her husband for 43 years.

When he decided to change his business from the traditional drugstore to the model he felt was best for patients, “They accepted our concept of pharmacy,” she said. “They still think that’s the way to go.”

Laura White, who trained as a nurse, recalled sitting at the couple’s dining room table at their Chilly Hollow home to create the forms her husband would use to track patient records.

“We worked on it for a year,” she said, adding the business lost only one patient when it made the switch to concentrate solely on patients and their medications.

Patricia White, 61, said the pharmacy will give her the opportunity to pursue pharmacy as the family feels it should be done.

After graduating in 1979 from the Medical College of Virginia, her father’s alma mater, she worked as a pharmacist at Richmond Memorial Hospital for four years.

That experience convinced her that her father’s vision was correct.

The hospital had one of the first computerized pharmacy records, she said, and pharmacists worked on the hospital floors as team members with physicians, making sure patients had no harmful interactions from medications.

Pharmacists made recommendations to doctors and also did patient counseling.

“I just loved it, on the floors,” she said. “We would do rounds with the doctors, we were that advanced.”

Patricia White said her father took a number of stands when it came to a patient’s health.

He would “never sell anybody anything he did not think would help,” she said.

“We got rid of tobacco products in the pharmacy, before we even changed over,” Laura White added.

Her husband believed the pharmacist’s job was to protect the health of patients.

“I have a lot to live up to,” Patricia White said.

The Whites said they didn’t find a site for their new pharmacy until they talked to ophthalmologist Charles Twigg.

Twigg has been at 33 W. Main St. for six of the 17 years he has been in Berryville.

His building had extra space, and Twigg decided he could refurbish the rear of the structure, facing Crow Street, for his own use, and turn the front over to the Whites for the new pharmacy.

“They were a Main Street business,” Twigg said. “They are going to be a Main Street business again. It’s a wonderful legacy.”

“I hope,” Twigg told Laura White, “you are as excited about this as I am.”

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com