David Feeney got a warning call from his son. He might get a call from the ABC legal department.
Feeney smiles as he tells the story.
The call he got was from Los Angeles. The lawyers told him there was a pharmacy in Warwick by the name of Oxnard, which he obviously knew; Feeney has run the Buttonwoods pharmacy since 1986. The Oxnard name was also on a set in the television sitcom “According to Jim,” starring Jim Belushi on ABC. Did he object?
It wasn’t a coincidence the pharmacy was Oxnard, or that the adjoining store was Feeney Shoes. Feeney’s son David writes sitcom scripts and he had chosen to immortalize his father’s business, at least as long as the sitcom survived.
But guaranteed, the Oxnard Pharmacy will live on in the Warwick community’s memory long after the sign comes down on Friday and is replaced by CVS. Feeney sold the business to the drug store chain. The store will continue to be a pharmacy.
“I’m retiring, not going out of business,” the 65-year old pharmacist said in an interview last week.
And, while he’ll be leaving behind an 80-hour workweek to play some golf and go paddling his kayak, he will remain active. He is a member of the board of the Trudeau Memorial Center. He plans to continue in professional associations and work on legislative issues affecting pharmacists. Feeney also holds a key role as “city pharmacist,” charged with coordinating the disbursement of medications in the event of disasters.
It’s no accident that Oxnard has been the site for city, state and federal officials to announce programs affecting health care and the pharmacy industry. Oxnard was the “beta site” nationally for electric prescriptions and other pharmaceutical software. Oxnard was the first independent pharmacy in the country to electrically manage prescriptions.
Throughout his career, Feeney has served on state and national associations and advisory boards. In addition to leading changes to the industry, he has been an innovator working on programs for community health. Oxnard offers programs in diabetes education, asthma, smoking cessation and COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]. Working with the city’s nurse, Pat Seltzer, Oxnard has also developed a medication therapy management program.
It’s a good deal more than Feeney envisioned as a pharmacy student at the University of Rhode Island. To get a feel for the profession, Feeney worked part-time for Ira Wellins, who ran Bayshore Pharmacy. He met his wife, Priscilla Greene of Warwick, when she was at URI studying to be a teacher.
Brad Oxnard gave him his first job after graduating and was his mentor while Feeney was enlisted in the Army Reserves, assigned to the 455th General Hospital Unit out of the armory on Sandy Lane. He didn’t imagine he would be staying in Warwick.
“I figured, after six years,” the time of his reserve commitment, “I would be moving on,” he said.
Oxnard opened his pharmacy 50 years ago. When Feeney started, it was located across the street from where it is today. When Oxnard retired, he sold the business to Feeney and then Feeney moved to the current location 20 years ago.
“I fell in love with it [the business]; you are always helping people with their health care,” he said.
But as much as Feeney is the driving force, he credits his employees and especially Priscilla for enabling it all to happen.
“The only reason I can do that,” he says of his community involvement, “is the quality of the staff.”
He is in awe of his wife, who raised two children – the Feeneys also have a daughter, Erin – while she was an elementary school teacher in North Kingstown and at the same time managed the pharmacy’s books and was buyer for the store’s gift shop.
Feeney takes pride in how many young people have worked for him who chose to go into the profession. Caitlin Kennedy is one of them. She spent a day in the pharmacy as part of a work-study experience as a senior at Bay View Academy. She is now doing an internship while studying to be a pharmacist. And then there is Diana Picozzi, who worked at Oxnard as a student at Vets and is now in pharmacy school. The list goes on. Some of his employees have been with him for decades, like Judy Roumelis for 25 years. And he is sure to name pharmacists Mike Berman, Gina Policelli and Justin Lamboy. He says the entire Mark McKenney family worked at Oxnard, and then there were the Bennetts.
Feeney says there’s still a place for independent pharmacies, even though Suburban will be the only one left in Warwick. He said the independents can compete with the big chains, but he suspects many people don’t want to put in the long hours and commitment. Other factors, such as regulations and reimbursements make it difficult, even as computers and drug company programs have simplified many aspects of the business. Feeney was reminded how long he was been in the business when a customer pointed out that he has been their family’s pharmacist for five generations.
“It was a great feeling and it was a shock,” he said, “because I’m not that old.”
Feeney also looks at his 20 employees as family. When he decided it was time to retire, he talked to several potential buyers.
“CVS was the only one that guaranteed they would all keep their jobs,” he said.