Robert Noles/Opelika Observer
By Morgan Bryce
Miles Thomas, the founder and former owner of Opelika’s well-known Thomas Pharmacy, is now a member of the Alabama Pharmacy Hall of Fame, receiving the recognition during the Alabama Pharmacy Association’s 135th Annual Convention in June.
Thomas, a member of the Alabama Pharmacy Association, received a letter from them in April letting him know of his induction. He said he was honored by the recognition.
“I had no idea it was coming. I was very surprised and glad to know somebody was thinking about me,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ introduction to pharmacy came through working a part-time job at Corbett Pharmacy in Hartford, Ala., where he cleaned soda fountains and swept floors. He said he found his true love for pharmacy when he was promoted to the pharmacy’s prescription department as a high school sophomore.
“I knew from that point on, pharmacy was what I wanted to do,” Thomas said.
Following his junior year, the Thomas family moved to Rehobeth, Ala., and Thomas said he took as many science and mathematics classes as possible, to prepare himself for pharmacy school.
After graduating from high school, Thomas said he returned to Hartford to work at the pharmacy, with the knowledge that at any point he might be drafted.
In 1948, he was drafted, and would spend the next four years serving in the military, for both the U.S. National Guard and Army. It was also during this time that he would meet the love of his life, Marge.
After finishing his years of military service, Thomas set his focus on pharmacy school at Auburn, and began taking classes in 1952. He said his previous working experience and strong academic background made pharmacy school easy, and managed to balance classes, a dating relationship and a National Guard branch on Auburn’s campus that he played a major role in starting.
Three years later, Thomas graduated from Auburn, and moved to Eufaula, where he lived and worked for nearly a year and a half.
Looking to establish his own pharmacy, Thomas and a friend took a trip up through eastern Alabama. Stopping in Opelika, Thomas found an empty building that could be turned into a pharmacy. He said after driving through the city, he knew that it would be a great place to start his practice.
“I knew a little bit about Opelika then, and I told my friend that we’d ride through the mill villages, so we rode through Opelika and Pepperell. I asked my friend if he noticed the lack of cars and how close they lived together, and he noticed those same things too,” Thomas said. “They all had to take taxis to come get their medicine, so I knew having a place accessible to them like this would be a good place for my business.”
In 1957, he established Thomas Pharmacy, and moved into the present building the pharmacy occupies in 1960. Thomas said the business’s growth was steady, and that it became a well-accepted establishment in the community. In addition to running his own pharmacy, Thomas would also serve on a number of pharmaceutical boards and committees, and played a major role in local government, most notably serving as mayor, county and city commissioner, city councilman and member of the parks and recreation board.
“I enjoyed being invested and involved in the community, and helping it grow … the youth baseball fields at Floral Park and helping bring about the development of the Grand National golf course are two of the biggest things I got accomplished for the city,” Thomas said.
In 1996, he stepped away from city government work, and in 1997, sold his pharmacy to friend and business partner Roger Burnett. Reflecting on his time in pharmacy, Thomas said the best part about the work was getting to work with people. “I was excited every time I opened the door in the morning. Getting to know people was the best part …earning their trust and taking care of them,” Thomas said. “Those are probably the best parts about being a pharmacist.”
Now 86, Thomas still lives in Opelika, with his son Ken. He said that after nearly 60 years of living here, his passion for the town has not diminished. “It’s been the best years of my life working and living here. We were accepted real good early on, and I’ve loved living here … it’s without a doubt the best place I’ve ever lived,” Thomas said.