When Tom Ward purchased a High St pharmacy 40 years ago, it was one of four in our town. Now, his is the only one.

"It doesn't seem like 40 years," Mr Ward said.

"The first owner of this business was Teddy Prior, who opened in 1887 and ran the business for 60 years. I don't think I'll catch him."

Mr Ward came to Dannevirke from Central Hawke's By when the opportunity arose to purchase his own business. In those days, the shop frontage was just 4m. In July 1988, the shop doubled in size.

Making headlines: Tom Ward featured on the front page of a German newspaper after the 1990 Mother's Day earthquake in Dannevirke sent stock in his pharmacy on to the floor.
Making headlines: Tom Ward featured on the front page of a German newspaper after the 1990 Mother's Day earthquake in Dannevirke sent stock in his pharmacy on to the floor.

"I had one girl and a part-time pharmacist when I started. Now I've 20 staff, a lot of them part-timers," he said.

In those early days there wasn't the sophistication and technology there is today, with work done on manual typewriters.

"It would take 20 minutes to complete a telephone order and our goods would come on the Newman's bus," Mr Ward said.

"In those days there were four pharmacies here in Dannevirke and if you sold something at a different price to the opposition, they would ring and let us know. It was a fixed price regime."

From manually copying each prescription into a book at the end of the day, then microfilming, to the first computer system, progress was rapid.

"Our first three computers and our network system cost $50,000, with printers and scanners between $2000 and $3000, a far cry from today when the cost of a printer is just the price of a cartridge," Mr Ward said.

Now, with everything online and robotics used for dispensing blister packs, there's continuing change in the pharmacy business.

There have also been dramatic changes on Dannevirke's High St.

"There would have been 300 businesses come and go on High St in the past 40 years, it's been incredible change," Mr Ward said.

"Shires Fruit and Vege Market and the Mangatera and Merrylees Hotels are the only constants in all those years."

And the demographics of Dannevirke have changed in 40 years too.

"Dannevirke was a reasonably affluent area but now it's changed substantially, quite severely downward," Mr Ward said.

"There are lots of issues now with drug and alcohol abuse and with the number of people removed from institutions into the community. But these are national problems too."

But through it all Mr Ward said he's been lucky he's had some great staff over the years.
"With the size of the business now, I have to delegate," he said.

"I've said to the girls here, it's like you've waited your whole life to turn 21 and then in a blink of an eye, you're 40."

Mr Ward said he enjoys the people contact but admits these interactions have changed too in the past 40 years.

"When I started in pharmacy, we weren't even allowed to tell patients what their medication was for," he said.

"Internationally pharmacies are going more robotic and pharmacists are being pulled into more clinical roles. The role of pharmacists continues to change. We deal with clinical matters and technicians deal almost exclusively with dispensary."

In 1990 Ward's Pharmacy made the headlines overseas, after the Mother's Day earthquake hit.

"I was pictured on the front page of a German newspaper with all the stock on the floor. It looked like total devastation," Mr Ward said.

"But all we lost was one bottle of shampoo."

And the future for Tom Ward?

I'll keep on catching a few fish, shooting a few ducks and carry on as a pharmacist," he said.

Previous pharmacy owners:
* Teddy Prior 1887 - 1946.
* Randall Reid - five years.
* Don and Kath Norris - 25 years.
* Tom Ward - September 1, 1977 . .