Seniors laud lifesaving pharmacist as ‘hometown hero’
By Pam Kragen, Special to the Ramona Sentinel
John Robertson had a hunch something was wrong when an elderly customer didn’t return to pick up his prescriptions.
He was right.
The 30-year-old Ramona pharmacist was hailed last Thursday as a “Hometown Hero” for tracking down 88-year-old Murray Frankel with the help of sheriff’s deputies, who found the widower lying on his bathroom floor after a fall one or two days before. Frankel is now recuperating at a hospital. His family could not be reached for comment.
The soft-spoken Robertson was presented with a plaque, lunch and a warm round of applause from friends, family and local residents at the Ramona Senior Center, where Frankel has been a daily fixture for the past four years. Center executive director Ray Cardona said Robertson’s actions represent Ramona community spirit at its best.
“He really represents what it means to be a hometown hero,” Cardona said. “Because of John’s actions, Murray was rescued from almost certain death.”
Robertson said he enjoys getting to know his customers at the Sav-On pharmacy inside Ramona’s Albertsons supermarket. He transferred to the store 10 months ago from a pharmacy in San Marcos because he wanted to work in his lifelong hometown. Robertson attended Ramona schools from kindergarten through high school, and he bikes to work every day.
“I grew up here and I know this community,” said Robertson, an Eagle Scout. “I’ve seen personally how people in our community assist one another. Most don’t ask for help, so it’s our responsity to reach out and help others when we see a need.”
Robertson met Frankel for the first time on Saturday, April 26, when the older man dropped off several prescriptions after a brief hospital stay. All but one of his medications was covered by insurance. When Robertson had time that day, he called the insurance company and explained the necessity of Frankel having the medication. Before going home, Robertson delivered an emergency supply of the medication to Frankel’s home. It was enough to last three days.
They sat and talked for about an hour.
“He’s a colorful character,” Robertson said. “I enjoyed getting to know him a little bit.”
Frankel, a World War II veteran, showed Robertson photographs, cars and engines.
“He has the ability to make anything with his hands,” said Robertson. “He’s able to make steam engines out of nothing — old parts.”
Miniature steam engines are just one of many of Frankel creations, said Robertson.
Cardona, the senior center director, said Frankel is known for his jokes and stories and for his ailing 17-year-old dog Yardsale, who would sit outside in Frankel’s truck while he had lunch in the center each day. Cardona said he wasn’t alarmed when Frankel missed lunch for several days because Frankel told him he’d be home caring for Yardsale (who died of age-related issues).
When Robertson arrived work on Monday, April 28, he was concerned when he saw that Frankel’s complete prescription hadn’t been picked up. He called Frankel’s house several times with no success.
Then, after a sleepless night, he drove to the man’s house Tuesday morning, but nobody answered the door. When Robertson and a neighbor noticed that Frankel’s Sunday newspaper was still untouched in the driveway, they called deputies to investigate. After officers found Frankel injured and severely dehydrated inside, Robertson stayed to give paramedics information on the man’s prescriptions.
He didn’t expect all the attention.
“This is what our community does,” he said. “We watch out for each other, we take care of things when they need to be taken care of.”
He said he’s witnessed numerous situations “where another person in this community has helped someone else. They never ask for anything in return. It’s done without expectation of any reward. That’s what’s has impressed me about our community as a whole, the people, the strong community that we have here, so I feel it’s my responsibility to continue that legacy wherever I can.”
Saying he didn’t expect any recognition, he credited others involved.
“It was very much a team effort — the next door neighbor, Cal Fire, the police,” he said. “Without everybody being involved, it probably would have gone down differently.”
Robertson’s girlfriend Shawnee Greer said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the rescue effort.
“That’s just who he is, a very thoughtful, humble man who doesn’t feel he deserves the attention,” she said. “He likes to know his customers, and he still keeps in touch with his customers from the last store where he worked.”
Sav-On Pharmacy manager Andrew Thomson said he has known Robertson since he was a 20-year-old pharmacy student, and he embodies the company’s community-focused philosophy. Thomson said Robertson is also known for his intuition.
“He’s extremely clever,” Thomson said. “He’s the sharp edge of our sword.”
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