You could say that Ron Isaacs' career as a pharmacist began in a bowling alley.
As a high-school junior, Isaacs worked in a Buffalo bowling alley setting pins, for which he earned the hefty sum of $6 per night.
"My mother was slowly going crazy because I went to work at 6 p.m. and came home at 1 a.m. And this is while I was going to school," Isaacs said recently.
In search of a more student-friendly schedule, Mrs. Isaacs "went to the local pharmacy—Fay's Pharmacy on Tonawanda Street in the Riverside section of Buffalo—and convinced the pharmacist, Morris Griesdorf, to hire me for any work in the store."
Isaacs so enjoyed working at the pharmacy that, despite earning a full tuition scholarship to study engineering out of town, he applied to the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SoPPS) instead.
"I changed my mind when I saw the interaction between the pharmacist and the customers. I liked that," said Isaacs, who graduated from SoPPS in 1956.
Upon graduation, Isaacs worked at several area pharmacies before opening the Lake Shore Pharmacy with two business partners who already owned a small pharmacy in the village of Angola. "They wanted to open a larger store on the highway and needed a third partner to manage it. After a few bull sessions, they convinced me that this was my future."
Turns out they were right. Isaacs went right to work, drawing on his UB education as well as the personal service aspects of running a business he'd learned at his first pharmacy job to keep his customers coming back. Over the decades, Isaacs saw his initial $5,000 investment—considered "very large" at the time—pay back financial dividends but, more importantly, personal ones too.
"As a matter of fact, when I sold the store, an overwhelming number of customers stopped in to say their goodbyes and it got quite teary, because I had developed a close relationship with them over 31 years," he said.
Along the way, Isaacs and his late wife, Sandra, had four children, all the motivation he needed to keep working as hard as he did.
"I promised myself that I would not allow my kids and grandkids to have to work their way through college as I had to do," he said.
His gratitude for his family and his career is at the core of what drives Isaacs to work hard and to give so generously to others, including his alma mater. Isaacs was quick to donate to the UB pharmacy school's current campaign and its quest to construct a new home for the school.
"I decided to give to the new building project because pharmacy was the gateway to the rest of my life when I graduated over fifty years ago," Isaacs said. "I stepped through that door into a world that allowed me to raise four children and gave me enough funding to take care of myself. Pharmacy for me opened many doors. It opened many opportunities for me and my family."
Answering the call to contribute of fellow alumnus John Kapoor*, after whom the new pharmacy home will be named, Isaacs has given significant support to fund one of two lecture halls included in the building plans. To honor his gift, UB will name the hall the Ronald J. Isaacs Lecture Hall.
Isaacs has served in many leadership roles in the pharmacy profession, including as a board member of the Western New York Pharmacists' Association and the UB pharmacy school's alumni association, which bestowed its highest alumni award—the Gregory Award—on Isaacs.
Getting involved in their professional and community organizations is one of the three pieces of advice Isaacs would pass on to today's pharmacy graduates. The others?
"Be prepared to work with our health team professionals. Don't be afraid to call doctors about the meds that they prescribed to your patient. You represent your patient when you fill their prescriptions."
And finally, "understand that what you do represents an honorable profession dedicated to helping people. You have to understand that you do more than just hand out pills. You are an amateur psychologist helping your patients through grief counseling when a loved one passes away. You are a family counselor when one of your patients needs help managing a family relationship. You counsel drug addicts if you have the opportunity. You counsel alcoholics. It's intervention PRN."
Now a resident of Tucson, AZ, Isaacs has many reasons to be proud: four grown children, eight grandchildren and a career that included transforming pharmacies such as the Lake Shore Pharmacy into highly valued community assets.
"Proud? You bet. I started with nothing. I worked my way through pharmacy school and each day my choice was to either study to try to pass the courses or work to give myself the opportunity to stay in school. Sometimes, I sit back and look at my life and how lucky I was to have the opportunity to serve my community as I did and to actually earn a nice living in the process," he said.
In 2019, the SUNY Board of Trustees revoked the naming of John and Editha Kapoor Hall as well as John Kapoor's honorary degree. More information is available in the university’s News Center.