If it weren't for the inspiration of a teacher, retiring pharmacist Bill Thomson says he may never have found his calling.
Feeling lucky to have begun his career as a "chemist", when pharmacists were required to make a medicine specifically for a patient, Bill say pharmacists today call on his knowledge if there is an issue around the small number of prescriptions that are mixed.
Bill arrived in Roxburgh with his Scottish family in 1957 and the Thomsons relocated to Taupō in 1959 to take up work on the geothermal power schemes at Wairakei. Bill attended Taupō-nui-a-Tia College for five years.
"It didn't take me long to lose my Scottish accent, which you can sometimes just detect after a couple of nips of whisky."
After two years studying at the Central Institute of Technology Pharmacy School in the old Petone Recreational building, Bill completed a two-year apprenticeship in the old Taupō Drug Store (roughly located where the Bank of New Zealand ATM is now) and then at the Lake Dispensary, which is now the Life Pharmacy in Heuheu St, and in 1965 graduated with a Diploma in Pharmacy.
A brief stint in Auckland as a young pharmacist ended when Bill jumped at the chance to take up the sole position at Taupō Urgent Pharmacy as this gave the opportunity for extra work as a locum. A few years later, Bill bought Suncourt Pharmacy (now occupied by Fern Cafe).
"From there we evolved into a pharmacy and perfumery in Horomatangi St, in the newly redeveloped Starlight Cinema complex. We then moved the business to Heuheu St, opposite the BP in what is now a fruit shop."
Looking back on his career, he says the introduction of computers in the 1980s was an important stepping stone in the work of a pharmacist.
"Computers were used to label prescriptions, eliminating the spelling errors caused when typewriters dropped a letter.
"And they made a for a vastly improved patient experience compared to when I first started, with information being available to the dispensing pharmacist about a patient's medical history, drug interactions, and any allergy and medicine reactions."
Advancement in medicines since Bill began his career in the late 1960s has seen ailments such as diabetes and hypertension being treated to the extent that patients of today can live a far more normal and untroubled life than patients 50 years ago.
Patients self-educating about lifestyle conditions through search engines like Google is also a hallmark of change. Although Bill has some advice: make sure you use several reputable websites to get a balanced view of your enquiry.
"A major breakthrough for pharmacy over the past 20 years has been the ability to sell medicines in the pharmacy that were previously only available through prescription."
Wanderlust kicked in at the age of 62, and Bill studied for a qualification that would allow him to practice pharmacy in Great Britain and Ireland. Bill and wife Sue set out for a three and half year working holiday in Ireland, where they made many trips to Italy. Sue published a booklet, Moment Italiani, where she notes at that time, if you could speak the language, it was possible to go into a pharmacy and get a lot more of what we would consider restricted medicines over the counter.
Bill says if it weren't for the call of family at home they might have stayed in Kinsale, County Cork, considered to be the gourmet capital of Ireland.
"It was a very friendly town, so much so that a fairly wealthy customer who became a good friend offered to finance us into purchasing the pharmacy we worked at."
Having mainly lived in Taupō for the past 50 years, Bill says the changes are unbelievable
"from a small, dusty, sleepy town with limited retail. We used to drive to Tokoroa to do bulk grocery shopping."
He credits the pivot towards tourism to the vision of former Taupō mayor Joe Story.
"Tarsealing, water reticulation and sewage treatment were major breakthroughs."
Bill says he has enjoyed meeting generations of different families through the pharmacy and takes pleasure in seeing customers around town and having a chat.
Always a sportsman, Bill says Taupō was the perfect place to pursue his passion for golf, gliding and bowls.
Plans for the future include spending more time supporting Sue with her painting, seeing more of his family and he says "travel would be grand".
Reflecting on his working life, Bill says his biggest achievement has been assisting people.
"Helping people, in any way, no matter if it was big or small, has been satisfying."
Bill's last day
Bill's last day is on Wednesday, March 31. The co-owner of Unichem Mainstreet Pharmacy Ayman Al Ibousi invites past customers to come into the pharmacy to say goodbye and thank you to Bill.