Tribute: John Ritchie Stephen Tait (1935–2021)

John Ritchie Stephen Tait was born on 7 February 1935 in the fishing village of Cairnbulg, Aberdeenshire, in the north east of Scotland. One of five children, he was the fourth and youngest son of Gilbert and Chrissie Tait.

He was a proud member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) for 63 years.

He served in the medical corps after graduating from Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University. After completing his preregistration training with Boots, he worked in community pharmacy for a few years before joining pharmaceutical company Allen and Hanburys (A&H). He then joined the pharmaceutical company British Drug Houses as a medical representative, travelling the length and breadth of Scotland.

Moving through the ranks of GlaxoSmithKline — now GSK — after they bought out BDH and A&H, he was offered the position of sales manager in South Africa. So, in 1967, aged 32 years, he took our family out to start a new life in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. His passion and determination for pharmacy led him to a rapid promotion as sales director for South Africa. In 1970, he moved our family to Johannesburg, where the national GSK African headquarters was located. I clearly recall him taking me, aged 15 years at the time, into the grand wooden panelled boardroom, with a large gleaming walnut table. This so impressed me, it actually influenced my decision to become a pharmacist.

He went on to become marketing director ofGSK Africa and, in 1975, was promoted to managing director of the GSK Allenbury division. Although being groomed for the top managing director position of GSK Africa, Dad was avidly against the apartheid regime, deliberately promoting his African colleagues into positions only white people had held before. This brought him into direct conflict with the senior company executives and, indeed, the laws of the land. He was also conscious of the requirement in South Africa for my two brothers to complete their two-year compulsory military service — for a regime in which he did not believe and of which he did not approve. Turning down the position, with apartheid at its peak and much civil unrest, including death threats to not just him but his African colleagues, he chose to bring the family back to Scotland.

Having to leave South Africa with no role open for him in the UK, Dad re-embraced community pharmacy as one of the early adopter clinical pharmacists. He managed a number of pharmacies in the Glasgow area, including the Lightburn and Bridgeton Health Centres, before moving up to Peterhead, Aberdeensire, and lastly down to Swindon, Wiltshire, as he pastored churches in those areas alongside working as a pharmacist.

Retiring back up to Cairnbulg, he continued to locum in north east Scotland alongside playing his favourite game of golf, until the age of 75 years.

Dad was so proud when I received my fellowship in 2014. He and my mother travelled down from Scotland to Birmingham for the occasion. Always an impactful character, Dad made the most of the opportunity to engage with Arash Hejazi, the then publisher of The Pharmaceutical Journal, on one of the hot topics of the day. After chatting to my father that evening, former RPS chief executive Helen Gordon commented on how bright and engaged he was in his discussions with her.

“A clever man”, she observed, “a sharp mind, with a profound appreciation of the challenges facing pharmacy ahead. We need more like him in the profession…”. I was most moved by her comments.

He was proud of being a pharmacist, always learning, always challenging, always pushing forwards for the profession. Dad’s faith was very important to him and, after retiring, as well as locuming, he started Emmanuel Press UK — the fundraising arm of Emmanuel Press South Africa — raising tens of thousands of pounds annually for this Christian educational outreach charity. As chair, he led this work for 18 years, finally stepping down at the age of 83 years.

Dad was so proud of his three children: myself, following in his footsteps as a pharmacist; my brother Iain, a consultant surgeon, and my younger brother Fraser, a partner in his dental practice — and of course his six grandchildren. My two daughters are both doctors, as is my niece; another granddaughter is an investment banker; and his grandson is a professional rugby player. The youngest grandson is not yet two years old.

A great legacy for a great man.

Sharon Isobel (Sibby) Tait Buckle

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, September 2021, Vol 307, No 7953;307(7953)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.106339

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