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Column: Remembering Gainesville pharmacist, Jo Ann Adams
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

In the first season of “The Andy Griffith Show,” a young lady druggist came to town to run her uncle’s drugstore.

Her name was Ellie Walker and she was played by Elinor Donahue, who had just finished a long run on the series, “Father Knows Best.”

Ellie’s arrival created quite a stir in Mayberry. It particularly disturbed senior citizen Emma Brand who was quite upset when Ellie refused to sell her some pills. Emma brought a dime to pay for them, just as she did with Ellie’s Uncle Fred.

Ellie insisted that Emma get a prescription from a doctor.

“I don’t need a doctor,” said Emma. “All I need is my pills. Now, gimme my pills.”                           

It turned out the pills were just sugar pills and that Fred had been selling them to her for years. Emma feigned illness and folks brought plates of food to her house. She did develop a case of indigestion.

Six years before, Gainesville had its own Ellie Walker in the person of Jo Ann Adams. She had graduated from the University of Georgia pharmacy school in a ceremony that took place in the pouring rain on her 20th birthday.

She started working in 1949 at the Piedmont Drug Store on the Gainesville square.

In 1954, Jo Ann Adams and Charlie Johnson opened Riverside Pharmacy on Riverside Drive. According to the stories I have been told, some predicted their demise. All the other drugstores were on the square and this was so far out of town. And you know, they have a lady druggist.

Now, almost 70 years later, the stores on the square are long gone and Riverside is still there. Jo Ann retired in 1986 and left the business in capable hands.

Jo Ann balanced her work as a pharmacist and her most important job, mama. She has a daughter and granddaughter who have followed in her footsteps in pharmacy.

Jo Ann passed away earlier this month at the age of 93. Her husband, Bob, passed away a few years before.

Her obituary lists the things that were important to her, like teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir at the First Baptist Church. She honored her husband’s military service by her active work in the American Legion auxiliary.

For years, she was known for making her special homemade brownies each week and sharing them with friends and neighbors. Her famous pecan pies were usually reserved for friends visiting from out of town.

Ellie Walker made it less than a season on TV, but Jo Ann Adams devoted four decades to her chosen profession. She was a quiet and unassuming woman. I don’t think she became a pharmacist to become a pioneer or trailblazer. It was the career she wanted, and she just set her mind on it.

I hope there might be a female pharmacist or two that may have walked into Riverside and could envision themselves in what was a male-dominated profession.

Jo Ann was not born here. She grew up in the southeast Georgia community of Brooklet, near Statesboro. Fortunately for us, it was here that she would spend most of her life and raise a family. Our community is a better place, because she came our way.​


Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the weekend Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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