Derry’s Valerie Cooke retires after over 50 years in the one pharmacy

Valerie Cooke was just 16-years-old and still at school when her uncle, Albert Jackson, got her a job in the pharmacy in Abercorn Road.

And there she remained for 52-years, before finally ‘hanging up her tunic’ and retiring in recent weeks from what is now Bradley’s Pharmacy.

For over five decades, Valerie has been a constant, friendly, and professional presence for all who walked through the doors of the pharmacy, through good times and bad.

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Speaking to the ‘Journal’ this week, she told how she loved her job, those she worked with and especially the local community and all her ‘wee customers’. She also admitted that, when she first started working part-time after school, she never could have predicted she’d have a job for life.

Valerie Cooke, pictured as she left Bradley's Pharmacy on her last day.

“My uncle, Albert, knew William Temple and heard he was looking for someone to come in after school.

“I was at Templemore and I thought it was great, because I was getting money. With my first wages, I saved up to buy myself a pair of boots out of Kay’s catalogue.

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“I thought I was the ‘bees knees’. I went full-time then after I finished school. Albert would always say to me: ‘Remember girl, it was me who got you that job’ and little did I think that, years later, I’d still be there.”

Albert has since passed away, but Valerie was delighted that his wife and daughter visited her in the shop on the day of her retirement.

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Valerie, pictured with Liam Bradley of Bradley's Pharmacy.

Valerie has lived a full life-time in the years she has served the people of the city in the pharmacy, which was first owned by Mr Temple, then Kieran McBrian and Brendan McSorley and now Liam Bradley. Valerie married her husband, Eric, who sadly passed away eight years ago.

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They had two daughters and she is also now a proud grandmother. Valerie completed her dispensing technician exams in the late 80s, encouraged by Mr Temple.

Valerie and Eric moved into the house beside the chemist when they got married and then later to the Waterside, where she still lives.

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“We decided we were going to retire when we got the State Pension, but Eric never even got his, so when he passed away, I stayed on at work then for another while.”

Valerie said she has always been very lucky to have worked with great owners, managers and colleagues.

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“I enjoyed everything about the job. I had really special times there.

“I really enjoyed working with the community, because you get to know everyone and their whole families.

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“I enjoyed working with the pre-regs too and see them passing their exams and becoming qualified pharmacists. I also made lots of special friends.”

Valerie, as you’d expect, has numerous memories of the last 52 years, including walking through barricades to get to work during the Troubles and more recently, the impact of Covid 19 on pharmacies and the many advancements in medications. However, one of her fondest memories is one which customers still recall to this day.

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“We were getting renovations done and had to move the dispensary upstairs.

“So, we had a wee hole in roof and would lower a bucket down for the girls in the shop to put the prescriptions in, for us to make them up upstairs. Customers remember coming to the wee hatch and seeing the bucket.

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“There was a string to move it up and down. Customers would still say to me about it.”

Valerie received numerous cards, presents and messages on the day she left, which she is extremely grateful for. She was met with applause and cheers as she left work on her final day.

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She admits that she will miss the job, but is looking forward to spending more time with her daughters, grandchildren and family.

“I’m so thankful to have been able to work all these years.

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“My husband didn’t get that and I have got to do things he sadly wasn’t able to. I met lots of lovely people who I will remember for ever. There were also people who I would have spoken to on the phone regularly, who I wouldn’t know if I met them on the street, but who were still special to me.

She added: “You don’t work in a job for 52 years if you don’t enjoy it and I really did.

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“I don’t think it has sunk in yet that I’ve left, but working there was such a special time and I will treasure it and all the customers and people I met. I have all the messages and cards in a wee box and I’ll treasure them all my life.”