Neil Gordon who has died aged 61 was, with his brother Robert, one of the founders of Gordons Chemists. Today that firm which started 34 years ago in Donaghadee has grown into Northern Ireland’s largest independent pharmacy chain with 62 stores and employing approximately 800 people.
Neil’s personality played a crucial role in those early Donaghadee years, earning a well-deserved reputation for professionalism, customer care and approachability, in a community that he would continue to serve for 16 years. That can still be seen today in the core values of the business, namely high quality patient and customer service combined with value for money.
When Robert opened the second store in 1982 the scene was set for the ensuing years. Over its early years the business evolved slowly. Flexibility and the ability to react to problems were key attributes. Systems and personnel were introduced at key times to deal with the continued expansion. Purchasing was centralised allowing the business to have greater control over its stockholding and ranges.
By 1996 the business had grown to 11 pharmacies and the purchase of a warehouse and Head Office in Banbridge was completed. This naturally brought new challenges and it was not uncommon to find Neil helping out picking orders in those early days as new systems were introduced. The facility created the base which allowed a company who, at that point only owned pharmacies in county Down, to move into other areas of Northern Ireland.
Always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the business, I.T. systems were identified as a way in which it could develop a competitive edge. Epos and purchasing systems were seen as essential for further growth and were duly sourced and introduced.
Continued expansion brought the Gordons vision of pharmacy to new parts of Northern Ireland through the nineties and early 2000s. Pharmacies were modernised and expanded. Throughout this time Neil's hands on approach was evident, on hand when stores were being refitted, lending a helping hand where it was needed.
Gordons introduced the concept of Health Checks in pharmacies through MOT clinics aimed at those patients, not exhibiting symptoms, who could avail of the check with no need to make an appointment. Thousands of patients have been checked and many with previously undiagnosed conditions are today benefiting from this early intervention.
In 2006 the business expanded into Scotland where there are now nine stores.
In the latter years, as Neil delegated more of the day to day running of the business, he was still available to anyone for advice or direction when it was asked for.
John Neil Bell Gordon was born on 17th October 1952 in Newry. The son of a farmer, and one of five brothers, his interest in Pharmacy was sparked at a young age through contact with two Uncles, Bob Dillon and Jim Paul, who were both Pharmacists.
He was educated at Newry Model Primary school and Newry Grammar school before studying Pharmacy at Bradford University.
After a period of employment which included working in England as well as with Connors Chemists in Northern Ireland, Neil established the first Gordons Chemists in Donaghadee in 1980.
A gregarious person by nature Neil was always fond of the company of others, exhibiting an ability to remember people and important aspects of their life even though he may not have known them well.
He was a co-founder of the Donaghadee Community Workforce, assisting the long term unemployed back in to employment, whilst engaging in work of community benefit.
He served as an elder at Shore Street Presbyterian Church, Donaghadee.
He served as a Trustee of the Lighthouse Trust, a charity serving children with cerebral palsy since its inception in 1997.
Neil was elected to the Executive committee of Belfast City Centre Management in 2004 and served until his death, reaching the position of Vice President.
He was elected to the Board of the P.C.C., the committee responsible for negotiating Community Pharmacy services with the Department of Health, and served for seven years.
He also served on the Board of S.O.S. Bus, a charity helping vulnerable people on the streets of Belfast.
In 2013 Neil was awarded a Fellowship of the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland. It was a fitting tribute and equalled the achievements of both those uncles who first introduced him to pharmacy.
His courage and character are perhaps best epitomised in the way in which he fought his illness for fifteen years without complaint and always willing to help those facing similar issues with advice and support.
Neil is survived by his mum Jean, wife Carol, and their sons Ryan and Gareth and daughter Fiona.