Pharmacy & Healthcare

When a picture is worth 1,000 words

The hunt for a 60-year-old photograph led the daughter of a former Walgreens pharmacist deep into the company’s historical archives.

By Sarah Cason
Pharmacist Oliver Butler, center, completes a sale next to store manager Clovis Williams at a Chicago Walgreens in 1962.

There was a day in Oliver Butler’s life when, while stopping at his local Walgreens, he gazed up in curiosity at a photo that hung over the registers. The realization quickly struck – it was him, decades ago, at his first job as a pharmacist.

A part of Walgreens’ vast historical archives, the photo was chosen to be included in a book for team members celebrating Walgreens’ 100th year in 2001. Soon after, it was chosen again – this time, as part of the artwork on display at Walgreens stores. It’s now recognizable to customers everywhere, as an encapsulation of the friendly and personalized service Walgreens’ pharmacy team is known for. But for Butler and his family, it served as a lighthearted joke – he passed through Walgreens many times before noticing his own likeness on display.

“It’s because you don’t look up,” his eldest daughter, Janee Butler Patin, chides.

Looking at the photo transports Butler back to 1962, the first year of what would be a lifelong career in pharmacy. A former and current Louisianian, Butler was recruited by Walgreens right out of Xavier University in New Orleans, along with two other classmates. At 21 years old, he was invited to work at a new location at 75th & State Street in Chicago as assistant manager.

Walgreens storefronts were expanding at a rapid pace in the early 1960s, and the location at 75th & State was the largest in the city when it opened its doors. The event drew crowds and the Walgreens publicity department, which included the photographer who snapped the photo of Butler behind the counter. Though Butler doesn’t recollect the moment itself, he’s proud to recount the job that catapulted his career.

collage of photos from Walgreens opening in 1962
Photos celebrating the opening of the Walgreens store at 7501 S. State St. were shared with the Chicago Daily News, The Bulletin and published in Pepper Pod, a magazine for team members that later became Walgreen World. Oliver Butler is pictured back row, center, in the staff photo.
Butler worked his way up to manager, and stayed in Chicago for the next seven years until the arrival of his first daughter called him home. After returning to New Orleans, he opened up his own store, Bruxelle Pharmacy. After several years, Ayerst Laboratories (now known as Wyeth) offered him a position as a sales representative, and Butler decided to join the major pharmaceutical company. He worked his way up to field sales manager in New York and eventually to vice president of sales and marketing operations in Pennsylvania. The role opened up his world, and Butler fell in love with traveling.

As time went on, Butler retired. Health reasons necessitated him to move to a senior independent living facility in his 70s. His travel slowed, and in 2020, COVID-19 curtailed any future plans. As Butler’s 80th birthday approached, his daughter Butler Patin had a special celebration in mind. After several months of isolation, the family planned to come together to celebrate the milestone in person. The perfect gift, she thought, would be to track down this photo, frame a copy and present it to her father.

“I started looking through my phone, Googling all kinds of search words – things like ‘home office marketing’ – to see if I could track down the picture,” explains Butler Patin. “And that’s when a LinkedIn ad popped up. I decided to message a Walgreens employee in marketing and said, ‘I don’t know if you’re the right person, but my dad is in this picture and I’m trying to get it.’ A few weeks later I got an email back. And then I received the photo on a canvas. I wasn’t even expecting that. I was just going to print the picture and have a cake. I was blown away.”

Oliver Butler holding photo
Oliver Butler on his 80th birthday, framed photo canvas in hand.
Butler couldn’t believe it.

“I was thrilled,” he said. “I don’t remember being that young – or having hair! But my experience working with Walgreens was so positive. It made me tough. It made me business-oriented. It led me to a successful career.”

The influence of a job in pharmacy went beyond Butler. Butler Patin herself is now in research and development in the pharmaceutical industry. She looks up to her father for his kindness, strength and sense of adventure. And when asked what the plans are for his 81st birthday, she’s quick to answer.

“Italy is his favorite. We’ll do another trip.”

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