George Whitfield followed in his father George Whitfield senior’s footsteps by studying at the Sunderland School of Pharmacy where he met his future wife, Valerie Chaston. On qualifying he joined his father to run their two branches of G Whitfield pharmacies in the Houghton-le-Spring area. With a strong work ethic and gentlemanly approach, the company soon expanded.
George was a true gentleman from an era when pharmacy was conducted in a family friendly manner. I first met George in 1977, early in my career when I applied for a position in his company. His personal touch was apparent when he visited me at my family home to interview me over a cup of tea and homemade piece of cake. I was very lucky to be taken on at his Easington Lane branch and then soon promoted to his head office at Houghton-le-Spring, where I quickly realised why his company was such a success.
He acted as my professional mentor and became a close friend to both me and my family. Through his meticulous work ethic his business flourished. The late 1970s and 1980s were an era in pharmacy that has sadly changed. In those days the head office branch was not only a busy community pharmacy where pharmacists were respected by their patients, but a hub and meeting place for all professionals in our town. Not only did the local GPs and dentists visit the pharmacy but also the local solicitor, farmer and even the branch bank manager called in regularly for a chat and a cup of coffee. George, being the gentleman he was, always showed time, patience and understanding to everyone he dealt with.
The advent of his two pharmacist daughters Fiona and Karen and son-in-law Cliff, all Sunderland graduates, joining the company allowed the branch numbers to expand rapidly as the family work ethos and caring regime for all staff members continued. This allowed George to take early retirement in his late 50s but he maintained a very keen interest in the business while enjoying an active retirement. He continued to be an inspiration to all the staff and the figurehead of the company. In April 2015, the company held an awards evening which coincided with its 80th anniversary. George was very proud to be involved in the celebrations which, in particular, highlighted the longevity of service of so many employees.
His sudden and sad passing was a great loss to not only his wife Val and family but also to all the staff and friends who knew George. It marked the loss of a great gentleman and friend for whom I had the pleasure working for 38 years.