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Jo Ann Adams blazes a trail as a pharmacist

POSTED: January 12, 2014 1:00 a.m.

In the first season of “The Andy Griffith Show,” the town folks of Mayberry are surprised by the arrival of a female druggist at the local drugstore.

Ellie Walker, played by Elinor Donahue, was the niece of Fred Walker, the druggist who owned the store and came to town to help out Uncle Fred. She stirred things up when she refused to give Emma Brand her pills without a prescription. Turns out Uncle Fred gave Emma sugar pills with no medicinal value, but they seemed to cure whatever was ailing poor old Emma.

Ellie also became the romantic interest of Sheriff Andy Taylor. Later that year, they conspired to play matchmaker between Deputy Barney Fife and eligible Mayberry socialite Thelma Lou.

We never knew Thelma Lou’s last name, however, she graduated from Mayberry Union High the same year as Andy and Barney. We never knew what she did for a living, except for a reference to an office.

Six years earlier, Gainesville had its own version of Ellie Walker in the person of Jo Ann Adams.

Jo Ann was not the love interest of the sheriff. For 62 years, she was the love of Bob Adams, who owned a family moving company.

Jo Ann attended the University of Georgia during the years of World War II, when most of the men of college age were fighting the war. During her studies in Athens, she lived in a fraternity house, which was empty of its brethren.

In that era, pharmacists, or druggists as they were often called, were called doc or doctor. They often sported a white tunic, as did medical doctors.

While folks loved Jo Ann, they didn’t exactly cotton up to calling her doc. Her son, Jimmy, told me sometimes customers or doctors would call the drugstore and ask to speak to the druggist. When Jo Ann told them she was one, they sometimes asked to speak to one of the men.

If the story stopped there, it would be enough to call Jo Ann Adams a pioneer or trailblazer.

But in 1954, Jo Ann went into business with Charlie Johnson to start Riverside Pharmacy, which was considered “out from town” on Riverside Drive. Gainesville was already a four-drugstore town, all right on the square where business was done.

Folks weren’t exactly predicting success for a store with a lady druggist at a location considered too far out from the city. A few years later, they also incorrectly predicted no one would drive way out on Green Street to go to First Baptist Church.

On Jan. 6, Riverside Pharmacy celebrated its 60th anniversary. Interestingly, there are no longer any drugstores on the town square.

Jo Ann Adams had two children, Al and Jane, when Riverside opened. She had two more, Sally and Jimmy, along the way. Jane followed her mother into the pharmacy business and has a local store in Forsyth, near Macon.

Jo Ann earned the respect of her many customers and came to the store after hours to get medicine for folks who were sick. Unlike her male counterparts, she also gave advice on gifts of perfume.

Jo Ann hung up her mortar and pestle (if you don’t know, look it up) in the 1980s, when computers became the order of the day. She handled a man’s world, but not a computerized one.

She blazed a mighty fine trail on Riverside Drive.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.


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