Retiring while ‘at his peak’ — at 88

2014-01-03 00:00

PETER Webster has retired from his job as pharmacist at Edendale Hospital at the grand age of 88.

Webster, whose last day at work was on New Year’s Eve, said he decided to leave while still at his peak.

His reason for retiring? He did not have a blemish on his career and did not want to blot his copybook by reaching a stage where he began making mistakes.

His former colleagues find it difficult to conjure up an image of a less than meticulous Webster. They claim he has a razor-sharp mind and extensive institutional knowledge that made his contribution to Edendale Hospital and the pharmacy section in particular, invaluable.

Thanusha Pillay, former pharmacy manager at Edendale, said Webster was a model civil servant. “He was very punctual, had an excellent work ethic and never took a day’s sick leave.

“There was an incident when his pressure dropped and the doctor ordered him to take a few days off. He phoned me to apologise,” Pillay said.

She added that he was also a good tonic for her and the rest of the staff as he had a great sense of humour. “He made me smile every day,” she recalled.

Webster, who was relaxing in his Prestbury home on his first day of retirement yesterday, said he was able to work for such a long time because he had no health problems.

Pillay confirmed that there was a policy within the department where contracts of medical staff could be renewed based on need. She said that, until recently, there was a scarcity of pharmacists in the public health sector.

Webster, who fought in World War 2, started his pharmacy training in 1949. He served his apprenticeship at Maurice Shackleford’s pharmacy in Point Road, Durban, and there he met his wife Norma, who worked for a shipping company. It is clear Norma shares his sense of humour when she says, “We love telling people we met in Point Road,” — currently an area being reclaimed after it degenerated into the seedier side of Durban.

The couple, with their three children, went on to live and work in England and Harare before moving to Pietermaritzburg in the late 1960s. Webster ran his own pharmacy in Church Street from 1966 to 1985, when he joined the civil service. He recalled that as he walked up the stairs at Edendale Hospital in September 1985, he knew it was the right place to be.

Webster later went on to serve a stint at Townhill Hospital. He was just over 55 then and when Townhill cut down on staff, Cyril Shabalala, who was the pharmacist in charge at Edendale, invited him back. Webster said he supposed he stayed and never thought about retiring because Edendale suited him.

“The people are warm and friendly and in all the time I worked in Edendale, even during the height of the violence, I never felt afraid or threatened about going into the area,” he said.

Webster was always the earliest at work and the last to leave, so he ended up opening the pharmacy at 7 am and locking it up at 4.30 pm, a task he did voluntarily and with dedication, Pillay recalled.

Now that he has retired, Webster intends keeping active. A long-standing member of Rotary, he plans to keep up with his social responsibility activities. There are children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to visit all over South Africa, as well as overseas. However, first on the cards is planning a trip to view the spring flowers of Namaqualand and the Cape West Coast.

For now, the spritely octogenarian is basking in the memories of the warm farewell given to him by his colleagues. “I intended going around and saying goodbye to everyone personally, but they all came to me, and despite my saying there was to be no collection for a gift, many came bearing gifts,” Webster recalled. He was particularly touched that colleagues who were on leave came in just to say goodbye to him.

The young pharmacists at Edendale say they will never forget Webster. They will remember him for his wit and his many stories, for his caring and most of all “as the man who never wore a jersey, even in mid-winter.”

Pillay said whenever Webster felt cold he would warm up by stretching and touching his toes a couple of times or running up and down the stairs.

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