Delayed departure

Long career:  Retiring pharmacist Alan Furness says 99 per cent of medical potions are sold straight off the shelf.
Long career: Retiring pharmacist Alan Furness says 99 per cent of medical potions are sold straight off the shelf.

"Riding off into the sunset" is the way Blenheim pharmacist Alan Furness imagines ending his 52-year career.

Wednesday was the 74-year-old's final day at work in Springlands Pharmacy, in Blenheim, albeit seven years after his official retirement, when he and his wife Carol sold the Amcal Furness Pharmacy.

They had owned that business for 43 years.

Alan says people have often teased him about still working but had reduced his time to just three days a week.

Besides, working for someone was more relaxed without monthly profit margin worries, no staff roster to sort and tax or other bureaucratic tasks to complete.

Alan's family used to own the Marlborough Express and when he was sent away to boarding school in Wellington he always knew he would come home to Blenheim. His final year at college was in 1957, the days before school career advisors so Alan applied for one of the first job opportunities he saw - an apprenticeship at the Wairau Pharmacy.

"If there had been a stock and station job I probably would have gone for that," he says with a laugh.

Contemporary school leavers need a university degree to work as a pharmacist.

When Alan entered the profession, herbal mixtures were still being concocted. For example, the drug digitalis comes from foxglove plants so botany and leaf structure were included in his studies.

Eight or 10 ointments were made day during his apprenticeship and he says the process was something of an "art".

"Some pharmacists could make a better cream than others, even using the same ingredients."

Capsules were made, too, "quite a tedious task" where different tablets listed in a doctor's prescription were ground up and mixed with a tiny measure of strychnine.

"You had to be very responsible, you had to make sure it was very accurately dispensed," Alan says.

These days 99 per cent of creams and medicines are sold directly off the shelf, already prepared and packaged.

"[Pharmacy] is more ‘human'. In the old days we were more concerned with preparing a suitable medicine and making sure all the ingredients were compatible.

"Nowadays we are more concerned with interaction with the patients."

That interaction helps pharmacists better understand customers' medical needs and if new drugs they want to take are compatible with their other medication.

The government, of course, is the industry's main "customer" and Alan says pharmacists often despair at its level of control.

"In earlier days the government had more respect for the elders of the pharmacy profession and were more open-eyed to pharmacists' needs and requirements.

"But as time has gone on, the government relies on the strength of their budgeting position and is much, much more bureaucratic and unbending," Alan says.

Asked about his retirement plans, Alan says Carol is keen to learn more about her forbears from the Orkney Islands so travel is on the cards.

He also hopes to explore areas closer to home by heading into the "back blocks" in their four-wheel-drive.

"I never learned to play golf, I never learned to play bowls and I don't want to be a new chum at this age."

The Marlborough Express