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HILLSVILLE — Bill “Doc” Copeland was chosen as July’s Citizen of the Month by Laurel Fork Council Member Greg Yonce at Hillsville Town Council’s July 14 meeting.
“I find it very fitting that Bill Copeland receive the Citizen of the Month for July, as this is the month that Bill is retiring,” said Yonce as he presented the award to Copeland that evening.
The Danville, along with his wife and three daughters, moved 90 miles west over the mountains to Hillsville.
Copeland described the town to his mother as “a town that rolls up the sidewalks at six o’clock,” and worried out loud whether he’d done the right thing — a worry that was thankfully short-lived.
Copeland is the son of the late A.C. and Lula Copeland. He graduated at age 17 from Schoolfield High in Danville in 1949, and attended Virginia Polytechnic University Extension in 1950.
In the same year, he was enrolled at the Medical College of Virginia.
During Thanksgiving break of 1951, Copeland returned to Danville and married his sweetheart, Bobbie Hardy. The newlyweds returned to Richmond so that Bill could continue his studies in the pharmacy program.
In 1953, Copeland enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served two years in Jacksonville, Fla., before he was transferred to the U.S. 6th Marine Corp. He served there until 1957, and then exited the service with the rank of First Class Corpsman.
He then went back to school, and graduated from the Medical College of Virginia in 1960, where he received the Kappa Psi “Key Man Award.”
Bill and Bobbie returned to Danville, where he worked at Lea’s Drug store for Tom Holland.
In 1965, Copeland became the owner of Carroll Drug in Hillsville. He lived in town for several months in the boarding house behind what used to be The Corner Restaurant, until Bobbie and their daughters — Cindy, Linda and Laurie — could join him. “The move obviously didn’t bother Bobbie, because in November they will celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary,” Yonce said.
Carroll Drug was a full-service pharmacy, which included everything from home health items to a cosmetic department. Charles Church was the first pharmacist, before Copeland joined the Carroll Drug Corporation. It was the first Panama Jack distributer in the area, and had the first elevator in town.
He was also the first to install a prescription drop box. “Too bad he didn’t patent it,” said Yonce.
The store’s soda fountain became a popular meeting place in the town. “I had my first-ever cup of coffee there, during my early days as a real estate agent,” Yonce remembered. “I was told, if you want to know who is looking to buy or sell, go sit at Carroll Drug and listen to what the people in there are talking about.”
On April Fool’s day 1967, Carroll Drug burned. When Copeland got the phone call telling him what happened, he thought it was a bad joke.
But on the heels of a traumatic event, a community of friends stood ready. Over the weekend, many pitched in and set up a temporary location in a building owned by Glenn Jackson, which is now the location of Cooley & Compton. Carroll Drug was open for business again, only missing one day of business.
After a year, Carroll Drug was reconstructed and re-opened on the corner of Main Street and East Grayson Street, just below the former post office.
The store remained in this area for many years. In late 1989, citing lack of parking and adequate access, Carroll Drug followed the Hillsville Post Office to South Main Street and was renamed Blue Ridge Pharmacy, where it has been for the past 25 years.
In 1972, Charles Collins joined Copeland as an intern. After he graduated in 1974, he became a pharmacist, and remained with the pharmacy until 1980. After the move to South Main Street, Collins became a part-time pharmacist, until joining the staff full-time in 2002.
Copeland employed teenagers through the Distributive Education Clubs of America program, and many local youths worked in the shop just because “they wanted to work for ‘Doc.’”
Yvonne Webb, his most long-term employee, started working at Carroll Drug when she was in high school, and has worked there ever since.
Over the years, Copeland has filled more than a million prescriptions, and made numerous after-hours trips — including nights, holidays and weekends — to ensure that his customers were taken care of.
In the early 1970s, Dan Daniels, to whom Copeland delivered papers as a youth, appointed Copeland to form the Carroll County Recreation Program. He worked out of his home with blueprints and models to start the program, which is now run by the county.
He was instrumental in bringing in Druther’s, the first fast food restaurant to come to Hillsville, which was located where Aunt Bea’s is now.
Copeland once served as a member of Hillsville Town Council. He is a lifetime member of the Virginia Jaycees. He was named president of the Virginia Pharmaceutical Association in 1978, named Virginia Pharmacist of the Year, and was a recipient of the prestigious Bowl of Hygeia award, given by Wyeth Laboratories to recognize pharmacists who have provided outstanding community service, as nominated by their pharmaceutical associations.
Twice, Copeland has received the Rotary International Paul Harris Award, and he is a recent recipient of the International Rotary William Skelton Award.
He serves on the advisory board for Mutual Drug, and is a member of the Twin County Regional Hospital Foundation. He also has been involved with the Carroll Wellness Center.
He is a member of the First United Methodist Church, where he has served on a number of committees, and served as treasurer. Additionally, he pitched for the church softball team for many years.
“Copeland despises litter bugs and computers. He loved his sheepdog Bleu, who spent hours with him in the drugstore on Monday evenings as he wrote his column, ‘William Tells ‘Em,’ for The Carroll News. His trademark is a smiley face and Tootsie Rolls,” said Yonce.
Copeland told Yonce that the decision to retire was not easy. He said he loves what he does because of the community he gets to serve each day. “Although he will no longer be seen behind the counter at Blue Ridge Pharmacy, he will still be a member of ‘this little town that rolls up the sidewalks at six o’clock,’ and he will still be the community minded person that he has been for almost 50 years,” said Yonce.
After his retirement at the end of the month, Copeland will be doing some consulting work and fill-in work for other pharmacies. Collins will continue his career at Rite-Aid Pharmacy in Galax.
After receiving his award, Copeland said a few words to council and others present at the meeting. “There are a lot of familiar faces in here,” he said as he looked around the room. “We didn’t mean to come to Hillsville... We’ve been here for 49 years… and Carroll County has been perfect for us,” he said.