LUNCH WITH ... The Village Pharmacist: “Our culture expects us to be healthy all the time. But that ain’t the truth.”

Submitted 4 months ago
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Jeff Good

Raise your hand if your last encounter with a pharmacist featured you at chain drugstore, standing behind a tall counter and staring across a mountain range of pill bottles at a guy in a white jacket who barely had time to look up. Jim Marmar is not that kind of guy — and he likes it that way.

Quechee resident and Woodstock pharmacist Jim Marmar says every prescription tells a story. "It's like a novel."

A refugee from corporate drug stores, he drives each day from his home in Quechee to the Woodstock Pharmacy to dispense health care the old-fashioned way.

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With careful attention, an extra helping of humanity — and the zaniest ties eBay can provide.

“When someone comes into my store, I try to look at their body, I look at the way they compose, I listen to their voice,” he says. He pays attention.

“I like to bring beauty into the world.”

During August, I’m going to have lunch from time to time with interesting people around the Upper Valley, people who care deeply about what they do.

Jim is 72, an institution, so you’d think he’d break away for a leisurely meal at one of Woodstock’s sweet eateries, right? Nope.

For him, it’s curried chicken salad on multigrain bread from King Arthur and a bottle of Honest Tea wolfed down between prescriptions at his crowded desk. But the main course in the hour we spend is his passion for helping.

Jim grew up outside Albany, NY, where his father was a haberdasher who took pride in treating customers right. As a teenager, Jim’s first job was sweeping floors and stocking shelves at a drugstore.

He liked the work and took naturally to science. So when the time came for college, he knew what to study, graduating in 1969 and entering the profession he’s never left.

Jim has worked at Woodstock Pharmacy since 2001 and can often be seen coming out from behind the counter to help customers with problems as minor as a stiff neck (that was me) and as serious as a new diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.

He’ll set up the newly diagnosed diabetic with syringes, insulin, a blood glucose monitoring machine. But he’ll also provide soothing guidance and the offer of more help whenever it’s needed.

“It’s overwhelming,” he says. “Our culture expects us to be healthy all the time. But that ain’t the truth.”

While he doesn’t write prescriptions, Jim doesn’t hesitate to reach out to a customer’s physician if he suspects unaddressed health issues — or disagrees with the doctor’s order for, say, a dramatic increase in blood pressure medicine.

“I’m sure there are pharmacists who are afraid to call the office and challenge doctors,” he says.

He’s not one of them. “If you don’t have battle scars like that, you’re probably not a good pharmacist.”

Jim doesn’t hesitate to criticize a health care industry that, in his view, has been taken hostage by greedy insurance companies and drug makers. As an example, he points to a highly effective Hepatitis C medication that costs $85,000 for a 12-week treatment cycle.

Hep C afflicts, among others, people struggling with drug addiction who have used dirty needles. But clean needles remain hard to find.

“It’s certainly a lot easier to give someone a $20 box of clean needles than to shell out $85,000,” he says.

The topic is no abstraction to him. He and his wife, Sandy, lost a son — 26-year-old Zach — to a heroin overdose in 2009. They included the cause of death in his obituary because, he says, people need to know the human cost of addiction.

They have two daughters in their 40s, one a veteran’s caseworker in Alaska and the other a mental health counselor in Burlington. The couple lives in a bungalow in Quechee, where Jim likes to cultivate irises, lilies and other flowers.

“My Prozac is my flowers.”

Jim and his wife Sandy, atop Killington. Courtesy photo.

He not only works a demanding job but also leads the state pharmaceutical association, volunteers at the Hartford Dismas House for offenders emerging from prison, follows the Dodgers and listens to his favorite musicians — the Allman Brothers, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell — loud.  

He’s retirement age, but clearly not the retiring type.

“Just last week, I turned 72,” he says. When I profess disbelief, he replies, “That’s my baby face — what can I say?”

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