Thursday, 27 June 2019


A pharmacist for more than six decades

On 17 December 1957 at 8:30 am, Jim Elder, a familiar face at Stephensons Unichem Pharmacy in Whitianga, started his career as a pharmacist in Tokoroa. And on Friday last week, just more than 61 years and three months later, at 5:30pm he dispensed his last prescription in Whitianga.

“I’m an old-school pharmacist and completed an apprenticeship instead of obtaining a tertiary qualification,” says Jim. “My apprenticeship formally started in April 1958, after I’ve completed three months of compulsory military training.”

Jim spent most of his working life in Tokoroa, eventually becoming a shareholder in the pharmacy he started his career at. Always desiring to own a bit of land, he moved in 1995 to the Kauaeranga Valley outside Thames where purchased a 90-hectare farm. While working as a locum pharmacist at Stephensons in Whitianga and a pharmacy in Coromandel Town, he also farmed with cattle and goats.

In 2000, Jim moved to Whitianga to assist John Stephenson, the Stephensons owner, on a more permanent basis for almost four years. That was followed by nine years in Blenheim. In 2013, John succeeded in luring Jim back to Whitianga until September last year, when he moved back to Blenheim. “As you grow older, you realise the importance of living somewhere that’s probably not as isolated as Whitianga,” says Jim. “I grew up in the Hawkes Bay and Blenheim reminds me of Hastings as it was when I was a child. I’ve pretty much fully retired in September last year and, although I’m very fond of Whitianga, decided Blenheim will be more suitable for my retirement.

“My partner and I have all our children and grandchildren in Blenheim and Christchurch, which obviously also played a role in our decision.

“I came back to Whitianga during the last week of my career as a registered New Zealand pharmacist to help John Stephenson, who had to be somewhere else. I made some lifelong friends in Whitianga and think it’s entirely appropriate that it’s the town where I finished my career.”

Jim was always community minded and spent six years, from 1958 to 1964, in the territorial army. He was a Tokoroa Borough Council councillor for six years and was the Tokoroa mayor for a further six years, from 1983 to 1989.

While Jim was the mayor of Tokoroa, he also served on Waikato Regional Council and was the South-Waikato civil defence controller. He remained in the position of civil defence controller until 1994.

Jim has seen several changes in the medicine dispensing industry over the years. “Years ago, pharmacists compounded medicines,” he says. “Today there’s not much of that happening anymore. “On the other hand, these days pharmacists provide services like vaccinations, which used to be done by doctors. It’s almost like pharmacies are becoming similar to the old apothecaries.”

Jim has also seen changes in Whitianga over the years. “Population growth is the major change,” he says. “Whitianga is much bigger than what it used to be. It’s not just a tourist destination anymore. The one thing I’m certainly going to miss are the wonderful beaches of the area.”

Jim plans to spend his retirement enjoying his family, tramping, playing ten pin bowling and experimenting in the kitchen. “Cooking is like dispensing,” he says. “All you have to do is follow a recipe. Who knows, I may get to cook for a few friends from Whitianga who come and visit me in Blenheim.”

Pictured: Jim Elder stared his career as a pharmacist in Tokoroa in 1957 and finished it in Whitianga more than 61 years later on Friday last week.



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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.