Colleen McCarthy Civello died last month at the age of 64. She died of cancer after what was described as a “long and courageous battle.”

Colleen Civello, Tony Civello, Kerr Drug, chain drug store, Thrift Drug, David Pinto, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, NACDS

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Inside This Issue - Opinion

Industry people honor Colleen Civello

September 10th, 2012
by David Pinto

Colleen McCarthy Civello died last month at the age of 64. She died of cancer after what was described as a “long and courageous battle.”

A memorial service to remember and celebrate Colleen’s life was held on August 24 at St. Philip’s Church in Crafton, Pa., a service that was followed by lunch at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh, the city in which she and her husband were born and grew up.

Colleen, who had a remarkable life of her own — friends and relatives at the lunch described her as “the most loving of people, always surrounded by friends who were charmed by her down-to-earth manner, her loyal and forgiving heart, her enormous sense of humor, her boundless joy for life, and her infectious laughter” — is perhaps better known in the chain drug industry as the wife of 43 years of Tony Civello, currently the chief executive officer of Kerr Drug and previously a senior executive at Thrift Drug, once the Pittsburgh-based J.C. Penney division.

For reasons too numerous and obvious to note here, the hundreds who turned out for the memorial service included an impressive contingent of chain drug store people.

Several Kerr staffers — some of whom had followed Civello from Pittsburgh to Raleigh, N.C., after Thrift was sold and he led a group that purchased Kerr — journeyed to Pittsburgh for the memorial service. Senior managers from such companies as Colgate, Unilever and Time Inc. came, as did longtime industry executive Mark Parrish. Kinney Drugs vice president of marketing Jim Wuest and Lewis Drugs CEO Mark Griffin were on hand, the latter after journeying halfway across the country. Jim Whitman, the ubiquitous NACDS executive who accurately numbers himself as among Civello’s closest industry friends, came with his wife, Karen, who navigated her way through the proceedings on crutches following recent foot surgery.

Industry icon Bob Kwait brought his wife, Elaine, though she was still recuperating from a recent illness. And many people from Civello’s past, chain drug veterans no longer in the industry, came because of what Civello has meant to them.

Every chain drug industry attendee had a common experience to share — a fond and meaningful connection with a chain drug store giant who, over generations, has changed the life and career of everyone he’s touched.

These people and others came to Pittsburgh because they are chain drug people — and because Tony and Colleen Ci­vello have been an integral part of this industry for longer than most of them have even been involved in the industry. They came because of the impact Tony and Colleen have had — and the difference Tony Civello will continue to make — on an industry that is unique in American business.

It has been said, accurately, that for those who understand and appreciate chain drug retailing in America, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not, no explanation is possible. It is an apt description, especially at this time.

For the truth is, chain drug retailing is changing. Had this memorial service been held at another, earlier time in the industry’s history, many more people would have been compelled to attend. For Tony Ci­vello is truly an industry icon — an executive who helped shape and change chain drug retailing not only by heading one of its innovative retail companies but by impressively leading the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the industry association of which he has been so integral a part, during the most turbulent period in its history.

But this is not another, earlier time. It is 2012. And chain drug retailing is different today. It has become larger, more competitive, less personal, less communal. Where friendships once defined the industry, now only competitors exist. Where personal events once mattered, they’re not now nearly as important as they once were. Where meetings and conferences could once be delayed, deferred or put off, they have now been assigned a priority that doesn’t countenance delay or dismissal.

And, remember, the memorial service was held in late August. The NACDS pharmacy conference was convening in Denver. And college was starting — so proud and anxious parents were committed to driving their kids to school for freshman orientation week.
Finally, the nature of chain drug retailing has changed. Individuals are less important today, even as the industry becomes more important. So it’s imperative that the industry people who came to honor Colleen Civello — 75 or so — be acknowledged for the journey, though they didn’t come for acknowledgement. They came because they care — about Tony and Colleen Ci­vel­lo, the things they’ve done, the contributions they’ve made, the people they’ve affected, the lives they’ve touched and changed.

In a very real sense the people who came to Pittsburgh from as far away as Sioux Falls, S.D., on August 24 were not much different from Tony and Colleen Civello. In the America of the last 50 years they can accurately be defined and described as ordinary people. Yet they have accomplished extraordinary things.

So it can be said of Tony and Colleen — ordinary people from ordinary American communities who grew up to accomplish extraordinary things, things they will be remembered for long after the memories of August 24 fade.

That, after all, is what America is about — a country where ordinary people consistently accomplish extraordinary things. So, too, it can be said of chain drug retailing — it is a business that has become integral to the American idiom because of its consistent ability to attract ordinary people who have managed to accomplish extraordinary things.

The hope here is that it remains so.