Trailblazer dies

Published 8:58 pm Monday, September 12, 2016

A Suffolk woman who blazed a trail in her profession died last week at the age of 82.



Jacqueline Majette Carson was valedictorian of her class at Hayden High School in Franklin, where she graduated at 16. She blazed through her work at Howard University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, so quickly that she was too young to sit for the licensing exam. You had to be 21, and she was only 20.

While at Howard, the budding pharmacist was a member of the American Pharmaceutical Association, president of the senior class and student council secretary, according to her daughter, Johnna Harrell.

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Undaunted by the age restriction, she got her first pharmacist job right away. James “Doc” Richards Sr., owner and operator of Suffolk Professional Pharmacy, hired her, and she worked as a graduate pharmacist until she got her license.

“He was so impressed that she finished high school early, which meant she finished the pharmacy program early,” said Richards’ daughter, Pat Lynn Richards-Spruill. “To us, and to my dad — I’m sure he would echo this — she really never left us.” Richards died in 2009.

But Carson did leave and went on to become chief pharmacist — a position later called director of pharmacy — at Louise Obici Memorial Hospital.

Colleagues said Carson was a trailblazer in a profession dominated by white men. She was the first black woman to be head of the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, a position she held while also working at Obici.

Donna Rogers, a clinical pharmacist at Sentara Obici Hospital, was influenced by Carson before the two even met.

“When I was first licensed to practice pharmacy in Virginia in 1986, the certificate that I received had Ms. Jacqueline Carson’s name signed on it, and I had always hoped to meet her one day,” Rogers stated in an email.

Eventually, Rogers came to work at Obici, and she met Carson.

“I remember asking a co-worker, ‘Is that the same Jackie Carson who served on the Board of Pharmacy?’” Rogers said. “What an experience! She was always the warmest, most inspiring and loving person that you could ever hope to meet. All who spent time in her presence always departed with a huge and smile on their face. She just had that kind of effect on people.”

Harrell, her daughter, said her mother was humble about her work.

“It wasn’t anything she boasted about, but she really liked the fact that she was helping patients be safe through pharmaceuticals and helping them achieve good health,” Harrell said. “She was meek and humble.”

Carson went on to volunteer in the medical field after retirement, continuing the work she had done throughout her career.

“She retired and kept giving back to the community,” Richards-Spruill said. “She’s just a remarkable trailblazer, in my opinion.”

Richards-Spruill said Carson was an inspiration to her both professionally and in her family life.

“I feel she left a legacy for the profession of pharmacy,” she said. “Growing up around her and seeing a woman be able to balance a very successful career and a family, I was seeing a woman who’s doing the same thing my dad did, but she was still able to balance a family.”

A celebration of life for Carson was held Saturday at Crocker Funeral Home. She is survived by four children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.