Published On: Thu, Jun 23rd, 2016

Farewell Doc Barnes

C.-Ron-AllenFather’s Day was this past Sunday and with the tragedy in Orlando, I devoted last week’s column to that. It therefore is quite appropriate to wish all dads a happy belated Father’s Day.

But it dawned on me, how happy a day could it be for those children who lost their fathers one week earlier in the Pulse nightclub shooting?

I would imagine it also was not a happy day in the Barnes household, a highly-respected family in Delray Beach’s history.

That’s because Dr. Simon C. “Doc” Barnes, one of the community’s icons, died a few days earlier at the age of 88.

We sometimes overuse the word “trailblazer.” But there’s no better way to describe Doc Barnes, who became the first black pharmacist in Delray Beach 1957. Doc’s career spanned 43 years before he retired in 2000.

Many in today’s Delray Beach may not recognize the name. But there was hardly a household in the Delray Beach that predates today’s pharmaceutical chains that was not impacted by him. Doc was a legend in this city. He was not just a pharmacist; he had a presence in this city and he touched so many lives.

I met Doc in the 1980s when he operated Fifth Avenue Pharmacy at 104 NW Fifth Ave. He later moved four times eventually ending up at on the southeast corner of West Atlantic and Swinton avenues.

Through the years, I found him to be a humble man who believed in giving back and someone who did not talk much about his accomplishments. It was sort of if you did not know about it, he would never be the one to say it. Doc would put himself last to help his community.

I learned how he took great pride in tailor making his prescriptions and personally delivered medicine to senior citizens who had no way to get to the pharmacy. Doc was dedicated to health and wellness in the black community. He was always reminding men to get their colon checked. He always impressed me with his inventory. It seems like he had something in that store for every possible ailment one could have had.

He sold ointments and filled prescriptions for everything from high blood pressure to gout to prostate trouble. If you had hormone issues, he had something for you. He also sold a variety of soaps including a zinc-based antifungal soap, a therapeutic “triple-tar” soap, ringworm soap and bedbug soap.

But Doc was well known for the Ultra-Pep, a vitamin and mineral, protein nutritional supplement which contains more than 56 ingredients. Doc sold thousands of the vitamins, which he began developing while a student at Xavier University in New Orleans.

I recalled after he got a 1-800-Ultra-Pep telephone number that gave him nationwide exposure and a web site, Doc was so excited, he would send everyone who came in the store about the web site. The local radio station had nothing over his advertising ability.

The Tallahassee native graduated with a pharmacy degree from Xavier University of Louisiana’s College of Pharmacy in May 1951. He passed the pharmaceutical Louisiana board exams two days later, and two weeks after that he passed the Florida boards.

At the end of that summer, he married his college sweetheart, Florence Wilkinson Barnes. They were married for 61 years until she died in April 2013. The union had two sons and a daughter.

Doc worked in Florida A&M’s School of Pharmacy for 14 months until he left for the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He returned two years later and finding a job was not easy. So he and his bride moved to West Palm Beach. Nine months later, they made Delray Beach their home after reading about the sleepy oceanfront enclave in a Jet magazine.

Being realistic about his prospects in those years of overt discrimination, Doc and his wife, then a teacher at Roosevelt High School in West Palm Beach, opened the pharmacy. He would often joke that starting a business during those times was not daunting because he attended the only predominantly black Catholic university in the world. “They prepared us for what we would encounter when we got out, so I opened my own store,” he once told a reporter.

His wife eventually joined Doc as the business grew, and in the late 1950s, the Barnes were certainly one of the few — and maybe the only — African-American married couple to operate its own pharmacy in the United States prior to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.  

Always a hard worker, Doc found it difficult to settle quietly into retirement, and struggled to find comfort in a world that didn’t include the daily grind.

Doc will be laid to rest on July 2.

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  1. Kerry says:

    What a wonderful article and tribute to truly a leader in the Delray Beach community. I have been blessed to be friends with his family for over 25 years and have always been amazed at his commitment to his community . Delray Beach has lost a part of its history

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