The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

May 25, 2014

A most loyal servant

Beckley pharmacist awarded WVU’s Order of the Vandalia

A longtime Beckley pharmacist is being awarded with West Virginia University’s highest honor — Order of Vandalia.

Patricia “Patty” C. Johnston, owner of Colony Drug and Wellness Center, has been named a 2014 recipient of WVU’s Order of Vandalia.

This award has been presented annually since 1961 to honor the most loyal servants of the university.

Johnston graduated from the WVU School of Pharmacy in 1977, but pharmacy was a part of her life long before her college days.

Her father, Harold Johnston, was a WVU School of Pharmacy graduate in 1951 and practiced in Beckley, where Patty grew up.

“I loved going to work with Dad,” Johnston reflected. “I loved hearing patients ask Dad questions. He always knew the answer.”

Her admiration of her father and his profession led her to follow in his footsteps, and even work with him for some time.

In 1986, the two bought Colony Drug, which was then located where the Beckley Martial Arts building is now.

Harold passed away 10 years later, and when the 2810 Robert C. Byrd location was on the market, Patty decided to relocate the pharmacy to a bigger and brighter location for her patients.

Their pharmacy legacy has passed on to a third generation now, with Patty’s daughter, Caitlin Frail.

Frail graduated from WVU School of Pharmacy in 2009, which Johnston said was quite a surprise.

“We took her to colleges all over. She was well-read and had a wide range of interests, so we thought she may go into an arts-related field.”

The family business rubbed off on her though, as she followed her mother and her grandfather to their alma mater to start a career of her own.

Frail worked at Colony Drug for about a year after graduating, but she now does research and teaches at the University of Minnesota.

“It really is a family business,” Johnston said, laughing, as she named other family members who have worked at Colony Drug, including a sister who is a nurse and a niece who works the front counter.

While the family aspect has remained the same, Johnston said pharmacy has changed a lot over the years, even since she graduated.

Some of the biggest changes include medical insurance coverage of prescriptions, costs, additional medical specialists and incorporating computers into the pharmacy.

“Pharmacies were one of the first entities to adopt computers into work, and it’s been for the better. It makes for easier tracking and more resources are readily available.”

One of her favorite parts of the job is getting to know so many people over the years.

“I’ve been in the same town since 1977, so I’ve known grandparents, parents and children over time.”

Johnston also gets to work as a preceptor with WVU School of Pharmacy students, which she has been doing since 1978.

Students can come to her pharmacy to learn and work for a five-week period, or a 15-week period if they are specifically interested in running an independent or community pharmacy.

“It’s a good way to keep yourself on your toes, with the new, young blood, with their questions and fresh perspective on everything.”

Plus, she can relay her years of knowledge and experience, as well as reminisce with them about the olden days — “It’s a mutually good experience,” she said with a smile.

She said there are many generational differences, namely student debt, which can make a big difference in the career path a student chooses.

One of the best differences, though, is gender bias, which has largely disappeared.

When she was fresh out of college, often her patients would ask her, “Where’s the pharmacist?” Back then, many people weren’t accustomed to seeing female pharmacists, but nowadays, Johnston said women dominate the field.

Johnston’s also a big Mountaineer fan, and she’s not just talking about the sports teams.

“WVU has so much more to offer from an educational and cultural standpoint,” she said.

Although she wishes WVU had a stronger presence in southern West Virginia, she said she believes the school is an integral part of the state.

“It’s been an important part of our state and it’s been an important part of our family.”

- - -

Johnston has been recognized twice by WVU as “Preceptor of the Year” and “National Preceptor of the Year” by the National Community Pharmacists Association.

She has served on the WVU School of Pharmacy Visiting Committee for over 10 years. She has also served as president of the School of Pharmacy Alumni Association, president of the West Virginia Pharmacists Association and has contributed to her state and alma mater in many other ways.

She, along with four others, were given the 2014 award. Other recipients include Barbara C. Bean, an alumna of the College of Creative Arts; Dr. Kenneth L. Carvell, longtime faculty member in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design; Douglas R. Van Scoy, an alumnus of the College of Business and Economics; and Bernard G. Westfall, alumnus of the College of Business and Economics and adjunct professor.

The Order of Vandalia award started back in 1960 under  WVU President Elvis J. Stahr, who sought to recognize those showed the most loyalty to the school.

Vandalia refers to a proposal to create a 14th British colony in America in the 1700s. That colony would have included about two-thirds of present West Virginia.

WVU’s first Order of Vandalia award was made in 1961.

— E-mail: wholdren@register-herald.com

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