The White way

Terry White
PSA Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Terry and Rhonda White AO

Joint PSA Lifetime Achievement Award winners Terry White AO and Rhonda White AO discuss the origins and successes of one of pharmacy’s most recognisable brands.

RHONDA WHITE AO

We first met [at a pharmacy event] in 1959. I was a student and there with my brother, who had not long opened his first pharmacy. Terry was also there as a new owner. He asked my brother if he could take me home. I was a bit miffed, so to be difficult I asked if he could drive my girlfriend home as well.

She lived another hour away, but it didn’t daunt him at all – he did the round trip. I always say persistence is one of his characteristics. I won’t say it’s the most endearing, but it certainly achieves amazing things.

Terry’s professional life extends across so many areas. Community pharmacy, of course, but I don’t think people realise his broader contribution. He was Chair of Metro South Health, which services a huge number of hospitals in southeast Queensland. He was also a Member of Parliament. But what I’m most proud of is that he will always do the right thing.

His biggest challenge was building the [Terry White] pharmacy network and finding the funding for the business. Its growth always exceeded our capacity to fund it personally, and convincing banks that community pharmacy was valuable, bankable and would last the distance was no small feat. That kept Terry very busy.

There’s no magic formula [for managing family and work life]. You have to juggle and get the best job done that you can at the time. One of the things I say to everyone I mentor is Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: ‘You must do the thing you think you cannot do’.

We’ve got a large, tight-knit family … and at the same time we are truly honoured to have so many members of the pharmacy community who we consider part of our family. So my family responsibilities never ended at home. People say there’s work and there’s home and there’s play – I just mix it all up and do my best.

I didn’t ever doubt Terry’s support for whatever initiative I undertook, which in the ‘60s was really quite unusual. We had the same values and vision and objectives for the brand, and clearly defined roles enabled both of us to be partners in business and in life as well.

And we didn’t always work together – Terry had his political career … and I had my career as an organisational and counselling psychologist. 

Terry has the most amazing ability to take a holistic approach to every issue … He’s a born diplomat. More than anything, he likes bringing lots of different people together to achieve a good outcome. An example is the Queensland Pharmacy Immunisation Pilot Program.

Dr Lisa Nissen, [then PSA Queensland Branch President] approached Terry [to help get it off the ground]. He was able to use his knowledge and experience of the professional environment, community pharmacy and the broader health system to help navigate that program through to the state government to legislate.

It was a huge breakthrough for the profession and is still paving the way for so many innovations in pharmacy practice. That there was not a second thought about pharmacists doing COVID-19 vaccinations is a credit to everyone who worked on getting the flu pilot up, because without that we wouldn’t have been so immunisation-ready as a profession.

I believe Terry has elevated community pharmacists in the eyes of the consumer, the profession and certainly in the eyes of government as highly qualified healthcare professionals who are experts in medicine and community care.

Like anything new, first you’re ignored and then you’re laughed at and then you make that breakthrough. I think TerryWhite Chemmart has given so many young pharmacists the confidence to enter community pharmacy knowing they’re supported by two lifetimes of getting it right. I think that’s an important legacy.

TERRY WHITE AO

I sent flowers and asked Rhonda out to dinner, but she kept turning me down. Finally I asked her why and she said, ‘I haven’t got any teeth!’ It turned out she had been on the golf course and a young kid had asked to have a swing of her club.

Instead of taking the club backwards and forwards he swung it sideways and hit her in the face, knocking out some of her teeth. So I said to her, ‘Ok, how would you like to go to a drive-in theatre?’ They were a big thing in those days. She said yes, so that was the beginning of the romance.

Rhonda has always been the heart and the soul of the [Terry White] brand. She was able to translate her experience as an organisational psychologist to work in pharmacy. Part of that was knocking down the walls that separated the dispensary from the front – removing all the barriers and putting the pharmacist front and centre.

She really took the corner pharmacy, or the ‘chemist shop’, as people still call it, and turned it into the modern community pharmacy we know today. 

She’s very supportive of education for the staff, and she developed learning programs and management training, particularly for women. It used to be that when young people got married, the wife was expected to stay home and rear the kids. By the time the children had grown up they’d lost whatever skills they’d had. Rhonda was a pioneer in that area, supporting women back into the workforce.

Rhonda has always been a person looking to the future. The systems and protocols she documented and developed provided the foundations of today’s Quality Care Pharmacy Program. She actually made the model for community practice today.

In that journey she faced a great deal of resistance to the concept. It was a major exercise in communication, starting with the pharmacy schools and universities to push for practice-ready graduates. Her advocacy at every level of the profession has inspired a generation of young pharmacists. 

What I’ve always tried to do is to stay in love with the mother of my children, and never go to bed with an unfinished disagreement. I think if you keep talking – and, more importantly, listening – you’ll find a way forward. That’s been my philosophy. It’s not easy, but it has worked for us.

Rhonda just quietly gets on and does stuff. Her legacy in pharmacy is very much about the fact that she was a woman during a period of time when it wasn’t very easy to be a female leader.

She doesn’t make a lot of noise about it, so this is a good opportunity for me to acknowledge her leadership skills. Pharmacist, organisational psychologist, innovator – she has built the TWC culture by involving the team members every step of the way.

I think COVID changed us. From a pharmacy point of view … we’re now seeing extended scope of practice being taken seriously by governments. We’re up to millions of people now who’ve been into a pharmacy and had an influenza or COVID-19 vaccine.

We recently went to Matraville, Sydney to open the 500th TWC Pharmacy. The managing partner was a young pharmacist from an Armenian family. He had his parents there, his local priest, three members of parliament … That’s Australia today – a strong, multi-ethnic community.