At the Super 1 Foods pharmacy on Gentry Parkway, everyone knows Mr. Gary.
Since becoming memorized as a child by the local pharmacist, it has been Bert Gary’s dream to get to know and help the community through his work.
Growing up in the small South Texas town of Cotulla, near Laredo, there was only one pharmacist and everyone knew him. Gary, 68, found the job “quite mysterious.” Customers would give the pharmacist their prescription, he would disappear and come back with an unknown medication rolled up in paper, he said.
To him it was secretive, but “I knew they’re the guys who help all the people with their ailments,” he said. “There was something about the pharmacist I thought that would be the ideal profession to get into.”
Gary decided to go into the field during career day in high school. He saw becoming a pharmacist as an opportunity to get to know nearly everyone in town, he said.
He graduated from The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Pharmacy in 1969 and has been a pharmacist for 44 years.
He moved to Tyler in 1988 with his wife of 35 years, who is a retired pharmacist. That year, Gary became the pharmacist at the new pharmacy that opened in Super 1 Foods on Troup Highway. Gary believes he and three technicians made up the only pharmacy in any Super 1 store in Tyler at the time.
“We’ve grown over the years,” he said.
When the company found out Gary spoke Spanish, they moved him to the store on Gentry Parkway in 1992. “And I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
“We all speak Spanish,” he said of himself and the 12 other pharmacy employees. “We have to because of the clientele.”
He estimates that at least 50 to 60 percent of their customers are Hispanic.
“We’re probably the highest Hispanic-oriented store in the city,” he said.
In the past two decades, they have grown the store’s pharmacy to two pharmacists and about 10 technicians and cashiers. Gary is pharmacist in charge.
He said being a pharmacist is like what he envisioned when he was a kid — “getting to know everybody in the community … and earn their respect.”
His favorite part of the profession has been the “interaction with the people,” he said. “If it wasn’t for that, it would be a boring job. That’s really what it’s all about I think.”
Pharmacist Victor Lamea has worked with Gary for about seven years.
“Everybody knows Mr. Gary. He’s famous around here,” Lamea said laughing. “He’s done so much good things for people.”
Gary said many people can’t afford to go to a doctor and come to him for advice. Every day, people come to the consulting window, asking questions about their child with a stuffy nose or cough or what they should do about their headache or ingrown toenail.
“We help them with all of that, as far as the law provides,” he said.
Some of his longtime customers call him doctor, but there are limitations to what he can help them with because he is not a physician, he said, adding that he often tells them they should go see a doctor.
Some patients can’t read the directions on their medications so Gary or someone else in the pharmacy translates it into Spanish for them, he said, adding that they will also print the directions in Spanish on the medicine bottle.
He has customers who have become good friends over the years, and recently had a couple visit him several times to say goodbye before moving to Arizona. Gary has a good memory and easily recalls his customers by name, which he said, means a lot to them.
“You get to know everybody and it’s almost like family,” he said.
Gary has seen the pharmacy profession drastically change over the years.
“We have a more proactive role in patient care,” he said.
In the past, pharmacists could not label drugs on a prescription unless told to do so by a doctor, and they were not allowed to tell patients anything about the medication. Now, they are required to tell customers anything they want to know about the medication, including any side effects, he said.
Gary recalls starting his career with a manual typewriter and dealing with files made up of about 1,000 prescriptions each. They used different color clothespins on prescriptions to let them know when to expect a customer to pick them up, he said. Now, everything is computerized.
Although a lot has changed, he said, “The customers are pretty much the same.”
Gary has seen more people come to his pharmacy at Super 1 Foods since they moved into the new facility in November.
“They’re proud of it,” he said.
The larger Super 1 Foods store, at 1105 E. Gentry Parkway, was built in 2012, replacing the adjacent facility that had served the Tyler community since 1989.
Gary believes people were driving across town to a different store with a nicer, brighter pharmacy but now come to their new facilities.
“I think this will be a great business from now on, as well as providing affordable patient care …” he said.
After 44 years, Gary said he doesn’t really have any plans to retire.
“As long as I enjoy it, I think I’ll continue to do it,” he said.
“I think at least 10 more years,” Lamea chimed in.