Dave had been an independent pharmacist here in Kingsport since the 1960s. I’d considered Dave a friend even before I met his and Suzanne’s daughter Jennifer through work at Skoby’s and sorority/fraternity life at ETSU. Later, Dave and I became closer as I covered the Dan’l Boone Region Antique Automobile Club of America’s Allandale Car Show year after year.
Dave loved old cars and car memorabilia. He helped found the club and promoted it tirelessly. He also loved people and championed the sick and tired who showed up at his counter asking for help. No one had to tell me that. I saw it. But I did have people tell me that, and not just after he died. He gave many young people their first jobs and inspired some to pursue pharmacy careers. He would personally deliver prescriptions to shut-ins. He offered credit and payment plans to people who’d been turned away elsewhere. People will remember those things. That’s good.
But there was so much more to Dave, and it’s some of the other things about him that bring a smile to my face. There were a lot of smiling faces, in fact, when Dave’s family received friends at Hamlett-Dobson’s downtown location last Sunday. Oh, everyone came through the doors somber and respectful. And there were tears and hugs and heartwarming stories.
But laughter, at first stifled, became comfortable as small groups gathered in the far ends of the visitation rooms. And I could hear Dave laughing right along with us. Dave was a fun guy. He had great stories and a quick wit. He was fearless as well, when he needed to be. In other words, bless the heart of anyone who mistook Dave’s compassion as a sign of weakness.
So we all stood around at the visitation swapping stories. Funny and uplifting were the common themes. Beth Fletcher talked about going to work at Berry’s when she was just 17. Barry Walton worked at Berry’s at that time and he wandered up as Beth talked. Each sentence was funnier than the last. Ultimately, Vicki Cooper Trammell belly-laughed — out loud. In the funeral home. Linda Morgan was holding it in. Donna Livesay Finley, who retired from Berry’s last year after 42 years, shared good memories, too. The laughter eased the grief we all felt.
Shortly our group was joined by Jennifer. Vicki apologized for laughing so loud and made Beth repeat her story for Jennifer. She laughed, but made us laugh harder.
Dave’s health had been in decline for some time. Jennifer would get him out and about as often as he felt up to it. One of their last big days together had been going to the Allandale Car Show in late September. But their last outing had been, at Dave’s request, a simple drive with a stop at Pal’s for a milkshake. It was just a couple of days before he died. As one does these days, Jennifer had picked up her cell phone and snapped a picture of Dave in the passenger seat holding his Pal’s milkshake. She’d shown me the picture earlier in the week.
Well, two of the first people to go through the receiving line to offer condolences to Dave’s family members were Pal Barger and his son Rick. Jennifer saw Pal making his way toward her and pulled the milkshake-trip picture up on her phone. After Pal offered his sorrow for her loss, Jennifer told him she wanted him to know the last thing Dave asked for was a trip to Pal’s for a milkshake — and she showed him the picture.
Pal stared at the picture and deadpanned, “Is that what killed him?” An instant classic, and one that Dave would so have appreciated and enjoyed. Jennifer loved it. Good thing. Shortly after Pal and Rick passed through the line, Carmack came through. Carmack is Hal Carmack, Pal’s cousin, master builder and entertainer extraordinaire. I’ve heard Hal called “Carmack” way more than “Hal.”
You probably see where this is going. Jennifer shared the milkshake story and picture with Carmack. His deadpan response: “Is that what killed him?”
For the record, it wasn’t.
Also for the record: Berry’s Pharmacy is open for business at its “new” location downtown at West Center and Clinchfield. Jennifer is in the office. Her daughter, Jessica, is behind the counter assisting the pharmacists and is studying at ETSU hoping to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps.
One more thing for the record: I only saw Dave tear up twice. Once from sadness, when I was talking with him after Suzanne’s funeral. The other time from pure joy. I’d asked him what he thought about the “new” Berry’s and Jennifer’s and Jessica’s work there. He said he was proud — but not surprised, because he knew they could do it.
When I told Jennifer I wanted my column this week to be about her dad, she asked only one thing.
“I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has called or dropped by the pharmacy or mailed us a card or sent flowers. It’s really been overwhelming the amount of love and support we’ve gotten, and it has been a blessing and comfort through all this.”
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.