By Richard Thomas, editor, Pharmacy Magazine.
Over the course of a long career in pharmacy journalism, 22 years and counting in my case, inevitably there are times when you have to report the death of a notable person from within the profession. Always a sad task, but you do your bit and the news cycle moves on.
Not this time. The sudden passing of Kirit Patel, one of the most significant and popular figures in pharmacy in this country, has given everyone pause for reflection, the pharmacy press included.
Any death, of course, is above all a personal tragedy for those closest to the deceased. So it is only right that our thoughts turn first to Nalini, Jay, Rupa, Sam and his brother JC – and all of Kirit’s family, friends and colleagues – at this enormously difficult time.
Thoughts also turn to the wider Day Lewis family, too, because Kirit was an inspirational and caring leader of that proud and vibrant pharmacy group. As he often remarked, people are loyal to an individual, not to an organisation. “Our people are the cornerstone of our business,” he’d say.
However, the death of Kirit has deeply touched and saddened many of us in the wider pharmacy community who knew, worked, wrote about, did business, jousted and laughed with him – and, judging by the flood of tributes on social media, even some who had never met him.
I heard the news while watching my cricket club struggle against our local rivals and within minutes was also informed of the passing of Jo Lumb, the wonderful former clinical editor on the Pharmaceutical Journal and once a colleague of mine. It made the cricket seem exactly what it was: utterly inconsequential.
Kirit was a colossus of our sector: visionary, dynamic, charismatic and hugely respected. People adored him. His life story could have been made into a film. We often joked that I would ghost-write his autobiography with him. It would have been a page-turner. I never got around to it and how I regret that now.
To me, he was the most generous, kind and warm-hearted of men. His enthusiasm for life and sense of fun was infectious. I must have spent time with him, either in a work or social capacity, on dozens of occasions over the years. It was difficult – no, impossible – to maintain that professional detachment and impartiality that journalists like to pride themselves on, mainly because he was so damn likeable, open and giving of his time.
And if we did take a different view on something, MUR targets, say, or the latest state of PSNC negotiations, he’d soon win me round with the passion and vigour of his argument. He was so quick-witted and his mind razor sharp, in truth it was often a struggle to keep up.
Anyway, what was there to criticise? Kirit made his mistakes in business, but, as he would say, he learnt from them and always came back stronger. The rise and rise of Day Lewis has been one of the undoubted success stories in community pharmacy in recent years. His pride in his people and his family was obvious.
I always used to enjoy my frequent encounters with him. He’d tease me about my hair, gently chide me about some coverage or other (“never enough on Day Lewis – tell people how good we are”) or inform me about his latest adventure, whether driving overland to India or falling off a stage, dancing, on one of his famous skiing trips.
I remember the look of horror on his face when some work colleagues and myself encountered him on a plane to Iceland. But we still had a beer together in the Blue Lagoon.
Above all I will remember his generous hospitality extended to me, and also on occasions my wife and family, whether it was at the glittering events to celebrate the 25th and 40th anniversaries of Day Lewis, or the company’s annual conference and dinner, always one of my favourite nights in the pharmacy calendar.
Being introduced as one of his guests while trying not to trip down a Busby Berkeley-style Hollywood staircase will live long on the memory. Or playing Jenga into the small hours while the party raged around us – and boy, Kirit and the Day Lewis crew knew how to party. I was also fortunate enough to be invited to family celebrations with the Patel family. Fun, laughter and champagne – they were great times.
Writing this piece is difficult because it is hard to imagine Day Lewis – or indeed pharmacy in general – without him. But I know how much effort he put into succession planning and with a settled and talented senior management team – and his children Jay, Rupa and Sam all involved in the business and sharing in his vision – I’m sure the company will continue to go from strength to strength.
Many people in their tributes said he was a giant of a man – and he was. He was also a true champion of independent pharmacy and the embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit that once so vividly characterised our sector. But I shall remember him most for his essential humanity. He was humble, funny, kind and supportive. Full of life, larger than life, he lived life to the full.
On the occasion of his company’s 40th anniversary last year, he was asked what had given him the most satisfaction over those four decades. “Believe me it is not the financial success,” he said. “It is the people and friendships we have built along the way, and championing the cause of pharmacy and the great care we give to the public.” We can all identify with that.
I was privileged to know him. We all were. The world will be a greyer place without him. But the memories, his spirit and his legacy will live on.