03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Career Lessons From Fred The Pharmacist

I began my shoplifting career at age 3 —  on the very day my father opened his drugstore in Flint, Mich. It was Germer’s Drug Store, and since I was Fawn Germer, I figured everything there was mine. Dad nabbed me for stealing a piece of Bazooka bubble gum, and I got a stern lecture that I was never to take things without paying for them. He gave me a penny and had me go to the front register to pay up. I was so embarrassed, but that was the end of my shoplifting career and the beginning of my appreciation of my father, the businessman.

This is not the story of a man starting out with one store and turning it into an empire. It is the story of a man who loved being a pharmacist so much that he refused to quit — no matter what.

I thought about what I have learned from his example as I waited for him to get off work so I could take him to dinner to celebrate his 82nd birthday yesterday.  Think of it: At age 82, he is still working as  a pharmacist. He wants to work. Without that job, I think he would grow old.

I think back to the much younger Fred Germer who owned the drugstore, and there were so many people who tried to rip him off. There was a student who dad saw stuffing a bunch of ice cream sandwiches into the back of his sweat pants. Dad went over to the guy and started a very long conversation. The guy squirmed as the ice cream began to melt, but Dad kept talking until he finally confronted the guy. There was the seemingly-devoted, 60-something employee who was regularly sneaking merchandise out of the store when  his shift ended. When he walked out with about 20 pairs of sunglasses, Dad fired him. He subsequently got a job as a security guard. One woman customer came in daily — for years — until Dad caught her stealing a whole bag full of groceries. Then there was a person who staged a slip and fall.

As the neighborhood changed, the criminal behavior escalated. Dad was held up at gunpoint multiple times. The armed robberies grew more frequent and I started to fear for his safety. I’d always ask, “Are you okay?” when he called. He’d assure me that he was just fine. One time I asked if he was all right and he just said, “Let me speak to your mother.” He’d been shot in the arm in a holdup. He insisted on going back to work the next day, I guess proving that he wasn’t hurt. But, I was. That was pretty traumatic for a kid.

My mom had enough of that and said it was time to sell the store. Without my dad to be there for his regulars, the store went bankrupt in two years. Germer’s Drug Store was successful for one reason: Fred Germer. Without him, that little independent drug store lost its oomph. Here was a man who would drive in the middle of the night to get emergency prescriptions for his customers. He’d even deliver them to their homes. He’d tell his employees, “The customer is always right,” and he meant it.

After selling the store, Dad worked in a beautiful mall chain store. One day, a friend called to ask Mom if Dad was all right. A day earlier, two guys came into the drugstore with sawed-off shotguns, demanding Dilaudid and money from Dad. He made eye contact with a customer who slipped out of the store and into the mall, where her police officer husband was waiting. He called for backup and there was a chase and shootout that made the front page of the newspaper. Dad grabbed the front page of the newspaper before we could see what happened.

What would make anyone endure that kind of danger? I guess it is the same thing that drives my dad to keep working now, so long after his contemporaries packed it in and retired. He truly loves his work. He loves the science of his industry. He loves serving others. He loves his co-workers. He loves being in the middle of things after so many years.

Last night, he met me in my mother’s room at the nursing home and carried a gift box under his arm. I knew he had something he was dying to show me, and in the box was a shirt that had been embroidered, “FRED” and “Favorite Pharmacist.” His co-workers at Vanguard, a pharmaceutical distribution center, threw a surprise party for him and presented him with the shirt and a card with about 80 signatures on it. I know those are his favorite gifts — ever. At 82, he hasn’t lost it.

I bet there have been at least a thousand people who have told me how lucky I am to be his daughter. I know that. My dad is not a perfect father, but he is the best one I know and I am glad he is mine.