Small-Town Arkansas Roots Run Deep for College of Pharmacy Alumnus

By Benjamin Waldrum

However, a pharmacy career wasn’t initially on her radar. At first, she wanted to be a nurse.

“My best friend and I decided we were going to be nurses,” Newsome said. “Well, she loved it, and I didn’t. One of my instructors said, ‘Have you thought about pharmacy?’ and I said no.”

Newsome decided to think about it but continued as a general science major at Southern State College, now Southern Arkansas University, later transferring to the University of Arkansas. There she attended a health professions meeting featuring speakers from UAMS, including J.R. McCowan, Ph.D., then associate dean of the College of Pharmacy.

“Dr. McCowan spoke about pharmacy, and he mentioned how many women were going into pharmacy, that things were really changing,” Newsome said. “Afterwards, I spoke to him about it and told myself that it was something I could do.”

After graduating from the UAMS College of Pharmacy in 1980, Newsome served her residency at Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. But her heart was still in Arkansas.

“I always wanted to come back to my hometown of Smackover to practice,” she said. “My specialty was to be a hospital pharmacist, but that didn’t pan out in a small town. So I had to reinvent myself and change into a retail pharmacist.”

Newsome worked as a pharmacist at Walgreens about a year before being offered a position in 1985 at Brookshire’s as the first pharmacist at its new El Dorado location. Only a year into her retail pharmacy career, she now ran her own shop.

“That was an experience, being able to open a pharmacy from scratch,” Newsome said. “How many times do you have the opportunity to do that? I took that challenge on and was successful. They basically left the pharmacy operations up to me.”

It was also a new experience with technology. The Brookshire’s in El Dorado was computerized, unlike the other pharmacies Newsome had worked at, which still used typewriters. Fortunately, her time as a resident with Harris Methodist gave her experience with two recently implemented technologies — computers and fax machines.

“Prior to that, to collect orders we had to make rounds to pick up orders at the nurses’ stations, bring the orders back to the pharmacy and fill them, then deliver the medication back to the floors,” Newsome said. “So, looking at things how they were in the late 1970s, it seemed very primitive to what we’re able to do now. Pharmacy has come a long way.”

Newsome soon realized she enjoyed retail pharmacy, and she’s stayed in it ever since. Today, she’s a pharmacist at Walmart in Camden, but also works at locations in El Dorado and Fordyce.

“I’m very happy to take care of the people of Camden, El Dorado and Fordyce,” Newsome said. “I have so much knowledge that I can pass on to them that will make a big improvement in their lives. It’s almost like a ministry to me. I’m here to help people.”

In 1991, then-Gov. Bill Clinton appointed Newsome to the Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy, where she has since been reappointed by every governor since. She credits her long retail experience with making her a better board member.

“You know, I feel that the Lord puts stuff before you, and you’re learning stuff without really realizing that it would be the next step to doing something different,” Newsome said.

“Lenora Newsome has long been a consistent, calm voice on our board, where her sage advice and guidance has helped shape the practice landscape for Arkansas pharmacists for the last three decades,” said John Kirtley, Pharm.D., executive director for the state pharmacy board. “Lenora’s approach in many situations is to listen first before commenting, but when she speaks, the people around her listen intently.”

Along with her work as a retail pharmacist, Newsome has helped carry the torch for pharmacy across the state. She maintains her role on the state pharmacy board as well as the executive committee of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). She previously represented District 6, encompassing six states: Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, before serving as national treasurer.

Earlier this year, the NABP named Newsome president-elect.  This will automatically advance her to successive roles as president, then chair. Lester Hosto, P.D., was the last Arkansan to serve in these roles.

“We’re there for guidance for all 50 states,” Newsome said. “You begin to see the same problems — what’s happening in Arkansas may be happening in Washington, Oregon and Maine.”

Newsome is able to take what she learns at the national level and bring it back to Arkansas, which filters down to the people she serves every day. She also gets involved locally, and helps with the Union County Community Foundation and the Boys & Girls Club of El Dorado.

“I have been able to grow much beyond what I expected of myself,” Newsome said. “I made the choice to come back home to work so that there would be other people who’d see that you can do something different with your life.”

It all stems from a love for small-town Arkansas and the people who have helped along the way. She also credits her husband of 40 years, Carlton Newsome, M.D., and her family as being supportive throughout her career.

“I encourage children that you can go away to college and you can come back home, and still have a wonderful life and a wonderful family,” Newsome said. “My church, my family, the little town of Smackover — everybody has helped me, and I don’t know if that could’ve happened anywhere else like it did for me here.”