Source: Mary Smith
It started with a Tweet about my mother, Mary. And so began a lovely 24 hours of likes, retweets and acknowledgement on social media that Mary had been a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), and its predecessor bodies, continuously, for 70 years. Several people were kind enough to say that Mary was an inspiration, and wanted to know more about her life in pharmacy.
My mother was born in 1929, in Stourbridge, Worcestershire, the only child of William and Elsie Shilvock. Her father was a baker and her mother ran a sweet shop; the bakery was at the back of the shop. A happy childhood saw her at Stourbridge High School for Girls, where an interest in chemistry drew her towards her future profession. She studied for the two-year ‘chemist and druggist’ qualification at Central Birmingham Technical College — the forerunner of the pharmacy school at Aston University — in Suffolk Street, Birmingham.
Mary qualified in 1950 with a distinction in chemistry. Although she didn’t know it at the time, she had studied alongside her future husband, John; however, they didn’t meet until later at a mutual friend’s birthday party. Mary was articled at the High Street branch of Boots in Dudley, West Midlands, where she became dispensary manager on qualifying. She married John in 1958 and found herself not only with a pharmacist husband, but also a pharmacist father-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law. In tune with the times, Mary stopped actively practising upon marriage, and looked after my brother Richard and myself.
Married life was in Halesowen, West Midlands, where JR Smith Chemists — the family business her father-in-law, my grandfather, established in 1928. Mary returned to practice in the early 1970s, working in the family business, and remained in practice until she and my father retired in 2004, when they were both aged 75 years.
Writing this in 2020, it is hard to comprehend the changes she has witnessed and been part of. Antibiotics — and the NHS — were relatively new in 1950. And she experienced both the switch from hand-written to mechanically-produced labels, and the roll-out of computerised patient records. There was also the shift from white-coated extemporaneous dispensing ‘out the back’ to the patient-facing roles that community pharmacists now have.
Both of my parents were active members of their local RPS branch, Dudley and Stourbridge, throughout their professional lives. One of my treasured possessions is a rose bowl presented by the then president of the then Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, Christine Glover, to thank them for their 50 years’ service to the branch.
Most people will view their mother as an inspiration, and I am no different. My brother supported the business side of their community pharmacy and continues to work for the family-owned pharmacy company that bought my parents’ business in 2004. I qualified as a pharmacist in 1984 and have been privileged to enjoy a wonderful career in academia.
My parents’ retirement was all too short, as their health declined in their 80s and my father passed away in 2016. As I write this, my mother is in lockdown in her care home in Halesowen — but as always, she is in great spirits and reads her newspaper every day. I am looking forward to telling her in person about all the interest she has inspired. In a family that can count six pharmacists over three generations, she leads the way with her 70-year contribution to our total of some 320 years. As someone said on Twitter, that’s a lot of subscriptions!