Jo Ann Adams will not only be remembered for her career as the first female pharmacist in Gainesville and original co-owner of Riverside Pharmacy, but the grace in which she carried herself and treated others.
The 93-year-old died peacefully at her home on Tuesday, Feb. 16.
Although Jo Ann retired in 1986 and Riverside Pharmacy changed buildings in 2004, Scottie Barton, the current owner, said Jo Ann’s giving spirit carries on through his staff and how they care for their customers.
“Our hearts are broken,” he said. “I’ve always said, if there was ever an angel on Earth, it was Jo Ann Adams. She was the sweetest, kindest person you would ever meet. The heart we have here and service she instilled in us, it’ll live on.”
Jane Hall, Jo Ann’s daughter, said her mother never doubted her path toward becoming a pharmacist, pursuing a bachelor’s degree right after she turned 17. Jo Ann graduated from the University of Georgia in 1947 and went on to become a certified pharmacist. Hall said her mother was one of four women in her pharmacy school’s graduating class.
The Statesboro native settled in Gainesville in 1949, and she worked for two years at the Piedmont Drug Store. In 1954, Jo Ann teamed up with Charlie Johnson to open Riverside Pharmacy. She had two children, Al and Jane, with her husband Bob when the business opened, and later two other kids came along, Jimmy and Sally.
“The legacy that she leaves when you look at this little area on Green Street and Riverside Drive, you can thank Jo Ann Adams and Charlie Johnson for that,” Barton said.
When Jo Ann and her business partner opened Riverside Pharmacy, Barton said people in the community thought they had made a poor decision. At the time, he said most businesses were centered around Gainesvile’s downtown square and Riverside Drive was considered “out of town.”
“The chance that they took back in the day helped develop the area we’re in now,” Barton said. “You can’t leave much more of a legacy than what they did with the store.”
Jimmy Adams, Jo Ann’s son, said being a female pharmacist didn’t go without its challenges.
For many years, he said his mother met with customers who either didn’t believe she was a pharmacist or preferred to speak with a man.
“When someone would call, and she’d answer, they’d say, ‘I’d like to speak to a pharmacist,’” Jimmy recounted. “She’s said, ‘I am a pharmacist, how can I help you?’ They’d stutter and stammer, and say, ‘I’d like to talk to a man.’”
Instead of snapping back at those customers, Hall said her mother would reply politely.
“She was quiet and sweet, and went about doing her work,” she said. “Mama was very kind and treated everybody with respect and tenderness. She didn’t differentiate.”
Even after his mother left work for the day, Jimmy said Jo Ann would answer calls at night and either deliver medicine to someone’s home or allow a customer to pick it up.
“Regardless of what hour it was, she’d go to the store and fill a prescription,” Jimmy recounted. “As a little fellow, I’d go down with her when she had a call. It was more frequent than you can imagine.”
Growing up, Hall said she thought her mother’s occupation was normal for women. When she began her first job as a pharmacist in 1975, Hall soon realized that females were a minority in the field.
“As big as Macon is, I was the first and only retail pharmacist,” Hall said. “People would ask, ‘Where’s the pharmacist?’ I said, ‘I am.’”
Hall said her niece, Margie Adams Curry, also went on to pursue the same career, establishing three generations of female pharmacists in the Adams’ family.
“Girls need to know there are (female) trailblazers, and they can follow in their footsteps,” she said. “Mama never doubted what she was doing.”
Adams is survived by her four children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.