By Cliff Gazee
It was about 22 years ago that an Armenian immigrant with degrees in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the American University of Beirut was ready to make the big step of opening his own Pharmacy in Ottawa.
It was a risky venture that meant that he and his young family would be giving up the security of his position as manager of a Woolco Pharmacy outlet for several years of struggling to establish a successful business. But for Antranik Boghossian the values of dedication and determination instilled by his family helped him complete the demands of his studies at a time when Beirut was under constant shelling and traveling the streets was to put your life at risk.
However, circumstances of civil war in Lebanon at the time offered little hope of using his credentials to advance his career...so he left for America...Boston to be precise. But Boston proved to be a false start...U.S. regulations were going to hold him back in his aspirations. Fortunately, through the Canadian Embassy he was able to acquire all the information and steps he needed to complete in order to become qualified to practice his profession in Canada.
He was then ready for his first Canadian position in Brockville, Ontario. He chose Brockville because it was close to the large Armenian community in Montreal where he would, in time, find and marry his wife. They moved to Ottawa where he took on the position at Woolco in the east end of the city.
When the time came for him to strike out on his own venture, he had a real estate agent scout all the possible available locations. The agent found a number of possibilities, most located in relatively affluent neighbourhoods; but Mr. Boghossian had decided that our neighbourhood, in spite of high rate of poverty and other social problems, was in the greatest need of the kind of service he wanted to provide.
In December of 1984 he opened Bell Pharmacy in a leased shop on Bell St. N. It was not long after that his reputation for treating his clients with sincere concern, compassion, and respect, no matter what their personal circumstances might be, spread by word of mouth throughout the community and he developed a large and loyal client base. By this time he had become known to most people in the area simply as “Tony”.
Twelve years later he was able to buy his own building and relocate to his current location at 737 Gladstone...still as Bell Pharmacy, and still about a half a block from Bell St. Those were difficult times for our community. Drug use and the associated problems were a constant threat to the peace and security of our neighbourhood. For lack of a coordinated effort to address the problem, used syringes that could carry hepatitis or the HIV virus were being discarded in our laneways, playgrounds, and school yards. Many agencies worked to reduce the problem through a variety of initiatives, but Tony was among the very few pharmacists to install a safe disposal container at his business.
Syringes, however, are only a by-product of the real problem of addiction. Tony stepped up to the plate to delivery daily controlled doses of methadone to addicts on their path to recovery. He had to endure some flak from some members of the community, but he felt bound by his professional duty as part of the health care network to do his part to address the problems.
Any regular client of the pharmacy sitting waiting for a prescription to be filled can’t help over time but notice the great diversity among the parade of clients that come through their doors. And they can’t help but notice that each and every one of them, no matter what their station in life is, received the same degree of respect and concern from Tony and his staff, who emulate his approach to their profession by taking an active interest in the lives and well being of those who approach their counter for help.
It is common to overhear folks asked about a pet that was sick, a family member’s new job or how their garden is growing...this is testament to the fact that they are not treated as just paying customers but as human beings integral to the life of community. And many people on limited incomes tell of a time when they didn’t have enough money for a health need and Tony helped by reducing the price 10 or 15%...or even told them to pay for it when they could.
Such is the client loyalty Tony has cultivated that, over the years, although many of his regulars have moved as far afield as Kanata, Stittsville, Orleans, and Cumberland, they still continue to depend on Bell pharmacy for all their medical needs.
Tony also doesn’t forget the obstacles he endured in earning the right to practice his profession with foreign university credentials. For the past 20 years he has served as a preceptor (a mentor) to 17 pharmacy student interns, all but two foreign trained. He has assembled a staff that represents a broad cross-section of the cultures and languages of the community to better serve the many new Canadians in the community as well as many seniors who are just more at ease in their native language.
The high regard that Tony has earned in the Community was never more evident than when he needed community support for a zoning adjustment to expand his pharmacy. Close to 1000 signatures were gathered to support his plans and have the zoning approved.
And true to Tony’s approach to serving the community the best way he can, his new premises will feature parking and wheelchair access from the rear to save frail seniors from having to contend with traffic on Gladstone Ave to reach the store. Other features include wide aisles for freer movement and a private consultation room.
And on top of all this--quite literally on top--Tony is building 4 new affordable apartments, a much-needed addition to the limited housing available in the area.
“Tony” Antranik Boghossian demonstrates on a daily basis the qualities of an active and concerned member of our community and serves as an outstanding example of how one person can make such a positive contribution to the well-being of their neighbourhood and do it with such quiet, subdued humility.
The Somerset West Community Health Centre is very pleased and proud to name “Tony” as the winner of its 2006 Community Service Award.