Pharmacy Museum treasures conjure memories and creativity

Roby Hill
January 19, 2023
Brooke Fox, Brian Fors and Philip Hall in the pharmacy museum
Waring Historical Library Archivist Brooke Fox and Curator Brian Fors review Pharmacy Museum exhibits for display


[BY PHOENICIA MIRACLE] ~ For months now, in preparation for the College of Pharmacy’s move to its new facility, Curator of the Waring Historical Library, Brian D. Fors, Ph.D., C.A., DAS, and MUSC University Archivist Brooke Fox, MSLS, CA, have sorted through and painstakingly digitized the College of Pharmacy’s museum collection for permanent electronic access.

After researching, cataloguing, and itemizing hundreds of blue, amber and clear bottles; worn text books; gifts bearing logos from long-ago merged pharma companies; scales of every size, and mortar and pestle sets of wood, brass and resin, Dr. Fors and Ms. Fox, with much input from Dr. Ron Nickel, Dr. William Golod, and Dr. Arnold Karig, kept hundreds of items to rotate on display in a customized glass cabinet just outside the Basic Sciences 2nd floor entrance to the new College of Pharmacy.

Downsizing the collection meant keeping truly significant items...and discarding the rest...right outside my office door! Now, what you don’t know about me is this: My Dad earned a living by re-selling...anything! His entrepreneurial eye turned old shoes into warm footwear and fallow land into house seats. So, when my unlearned eye – I just got here 3 months ago – noticed a table filled with books and bottles and spatulas, all free to the taker, I knew they could find another fitting home.

Choosing the recipients, however, required intentionality.

Recently, I met Dr. Nancy G. Mikell, who recently retired as chief of pharmacy services from The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, a tertiary care facility located in Charleston. During our conversation, Dr. Mikell mentioned her involvement with the Historic Charleston Foundation.

I carefully chose four books and texted her a photo. Yes, she said! I did a door drop, and within hours Dr. Mikell texted me a note a two photos.

She had stacked the books, wrapped them with wide red and green silk ribbon, and displayed them alongside other treasures on an antique buffet inside her historic downtown Charleston home.

Dr. Alexander Smythe ‘68 and I met when he and his wife Gwen ’66 (MUSC College of Nursing) joined Dean Philip Hall and me for dinner in Columbia in October. Because Dr. Smythe credits his pharmacy degree as the reason he graduated first in his class from MUSC College of Medicine (Class of 1972), I chose a book with a copyright and topic that I believed would work. “J.H. Hoch” was inscribed neatly inside the front cover.

I secured the book and a note inside a padded envelope and took a chance. About a week later on a Sunday night, my cell phone rang: It was Dr. Smythe. The memories he shared about Dr. Hoch and the fraternity Dr. Hoch advised were priceless. Mrs. Smythe even found a photo from 1967, and soon I had a text showing then-fraternity-president Dr. Smythe speaking with Dr. Hoch seated to his left.

Just before we left for the holidays, new items appeared on the table of discards. Among them was a small trove of shiny spatulas from Lilly. I brought five of them home, cleaned them, and stuck them in a kitchen drawer. Then, as I often do during holidays, I baked Sister Melinda’s Carrot Cake, the moniker a faithful woman who served as church treasurer when I was a teenager.

This year, though, instead of a clunky butter knife, I reached for my pharmacy tool! The creamy icing filled with coconut and pecans went on perfectly!

So perfectly that I gifted one the next day – to a couple of millennials. “We’ll smooth off our ground espresso with this,” they agreed.

Inside an institution chartered nearly 140 years ago, it’s easy for nostalgia to be misconstrued as treasure. Value, however, is intrinsic most often not in the item itself but in the holder’s joyful memories or new usage.

Eli Lily compounding knife icing a cake