Meet Hugh Harris Oldest practising pharmacist in Guyana
By Linda Rutherford
June 16, 2002
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He was just 22.
Today, 55 years on, he is being celebrated as the oldest practising pharmacist in the country, a title that is being conferred on him today by his peers in the Guyana Pharmacists Association (GPA) during the opening ceremony of their Third Annual Pharmacists Convention at the Ocean View International Hotel, at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, as part of week-long activities to mark ‘Pharmacists Week’.
Reminiscing with the Sunday Chronicle Wednesday evening on how he came to be a pharmacist, Mr. Harris said his mother had always wanted him to study medicine, but his parents were too poor to afford to send him to England to study as was the practice then.
She was just a seamstress, he said. She made uniforms for the nurses over at the Palms, which was just a stone’s throw from where they lived across the road from Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon’s grandmother on Bent Street, between Louisa Row and Hardina Street in Wortmanville.
His father, on the other hand, was a sub-editor at the then Argosy Newspaper, which was housed on Water Street, somewhere in the vicinity of Fogarty’s.
He was also a chorister at the St. Phillips Church on High Street, while his mother was an accomplished pianist. It was through their shared love for music that they met and subsequently got married.
Unfortunately, his mother did not live to see him grow to become a man.
“She died early,” he said.
Pressure, the doctors said.
She was just 40, and he just 13.
Luckily for him, his dad knew Johnny ‘Limacol’ Adamson, the man in charge of things at Bookers; the Managing Director; the man who not only invented ‘Limacol’, from which he took his nickname, but also the cough linctus, ‘Ferrol Compound’.
So when he became of age, and was in search of a job as a student pharmacist, it was to Adamson that his father turned.
Adamson readily agreed; as long as the boy was willing to accept $2.40 a week, which was about a fifth of what the regular chemists and druggists, as they were called then, were receiving.
Thus began his tenure with Bookers. The year was 1942. He’d just finished writing Senior Cambridge. In another few months he would turn 17.
Within 18 months, he was able to write his first examination, topping the class. He beat off the likes of George Jeboo and Cecil Gillette, both of whom were to later in life become respectable city pharmacists.
The next round, however, Gillette licked him into second place.
He received his papers declaring him a certified pharmacist on April 11, 1947. Six months later, he was a married man.
And, on Boxing Day of the same year, he was made manager of the firm’s Alberttown branch, then located at the corner of Third and Cummings Streets. He was subsequently made manager of the Camp Street branch and much later of the La Penitence branch on Saffon Street.
In all that time, he said, he had not taken a day’s leave. He did in 1956, spending it in Linden, then called Mackenzie, where he went to represent Bookers at a ‘track and field’ meet.
There he would meet a man named ‘Rocky’ Hamilton, who then owned a sawmill and a railway, which latter ran from Wismar to Rockstone - from which Hamilton took his nickname - and from whom Harris would eventually acquire the business he now owns and runs: Harris’ Drug Store, on Burnham Drive, Wismar.
Apparently, Harris’ reputation as a pharmacist of note had preceded him, because it was ‘Rocky’ who sought him out at the Mackenzie Sports Club Ground where he made him an offer he just couldn’t refuse, but almost did from sheer incredulity.
What Rocky was offering was not a chance to run the drugstore for him, as others had done, but the opportunity of buying him out lock, stock, and barrel. The first thought that occurred to him was: “Where on earth am I going to get the money?”
Excited yet troubled all at the same time, he asked his wife, Leila, what she thought about the proposal.
She, in turn, turned to her father, who told them to accept the offer; that he would pledge his house to get them the money.
He did. And on the day of his 31st birthday, August 29,1956, Harris travelled to Linden.
Five days later, September 3, 1956, he threw open the doors to Harris’.
Today, he is still in business and doing just as well as he did all those years ago.
Harris said the citation he is about to receive, which is ‘Life Membership’ in the organisation, is usually bestowed upon persons who have “actively served the GPA for more than 15 years, or actively contributed to and served the profession and practice of pharmacy for more than 25 years.”
He is one of six persons to have ever received this commendation to date.