Richards to be remembered
Published 9:38 pm Wednesday, July 2, 2014
In honor of the 60th anniversary of the opening of her father’s pharmacy, Patricia Richards-Spruill hopes to plan an event later this year to honor her late father’s legacy of service to the community.
James E. “Doc” Richards Sr. opened Suffolk Professional Pharmacy in the H.M. Diggs building on East Washington Street on July 2, 1954. Richards-Spruill said it had been her father’s dream.
“Before he was drafted, he had it in his mind to do something to help people,” she said. “Pharmacy was something he was passionate about.”
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After his World War II service, he went to Howard University and got his degree in pharmacy. He worked as an employee in other people’s businesses for a few years.
“In 1954 was when he realized his dream in opening Suffolk Professional Pharmacy,” she said recently. “He opened a unique professional pharmacy complete with a soda fountain. When he opened in the ’50s, it was the only soda fountain where people of color could sit. People of any color — he didn’t discriminate.”
Richards-Spruill said her father was trusted in the community and had good relationships with his customers, even those who couldn’t pay.
“Pharmacists are some of the most trusted professionals,” she said. “They saw my father as their pastor; they saw him as their marriage counselor. No one ever left my dad’s store sick without their medication, even if they didn’t have the money.”
She recalled her father getting out of bed many times to fill a prescription for a sick customer.
“‘I’ll fill it and bring it to your home,’” she recalled him saying to customers in the middle of the night.
He was so passionate about pharmacy that he passed along the passion to Richards-Spruill. She worked at the pharmacy with him and later entered the profession herself. She now works at Chesapeake Care Clinic and volunteers at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic.
Richards was active in the community, as well. He served on the Planning Commission, was the first trustee emeritus at First Baptist Church Mahan Street after having been chair of the trustee board, and was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity for more than 60 years.
He passed away in 2009, following his wife of 64 years, Athalia Richards, who had died in 2007. Besides Richards-Spruill, he had two children, James Richards Jr. and Ann R. Kearns.
Richards-Spruill said she hopes to plan a block party of some kind later in the year to honor her father.
“We want something that will be fun and open to the public, because my dad was a man of the people,” she said.