When you’ve run a pharmacy in Midtown Atlanta for decades, you’re bound to have seen some things. Lanier Mull has seen a lot.
Kroger hired the out Copperhill, Tenn., native to be pharmacy manager at the Ansley Mall location in 1999. He set to work running it like a small-town pharmacy, greeting every customer with a warm smile and learning their name. Many know him on a first-name basis as well.
Mull, who lives in Morningside with his partner and two grown children (and two pit bulls, Zeus and Ares), chatted with Q about pharmacy life, meeting his partner at Backstreet, saying goodbye to friends and patients lost to AIDS, and his retirement plans.
What was it like growing up in Copperhill?
It was a small mining community. Everyone knew all their neighbors, relatives and their business. There wasn’t much to entertain younger folks. We would go to the drive-in movies, cruise around in our cars or go to high school athletic events.
What made you want to be a pharmacist?
I went to college to study dentistry. My college advisor suggested I do pharmacy since the program would be easier to get into. I followed his advice and have been happy with my choice. My partner is a dentist, so I feel like I got the best of both worlds.
What brought you to Atlanta?
After college graduation, I returned to Copperhill and worked as a pharmacist for three years. I got bored and started making weekend trips to Atlanta for fun. I met Don, my partner of 37 years, one night at Backstreet in 1982, and we have been together ever since.
What do you love about your job?
I enjoy helping people. I have a lot of nice patients who depend on me and call for advice. I like taking care of their needs and their health. Pharmacy has given me lots of connections with the medical world in Atlanta, and I have made many lifetime friends.
You’ve said you want the Ansley Kroger pharmacy to feel like a small-town pharmacy. Why?
I like to know and be able to call all of my customers by name and be dependable for them.
How has Pharmacy changed since you started?
The business has been squeezed by the lower reimbursements coming from the insurance companies and government entities. Pharmacies struggle to make a decent profit. Our services have expanded from dispensing medications and counseling patients to providing vaccines, health screenings, medication therapeutic management and other corporate tasks. All of these additional responsibilities take valuable time away from my personal services that I like to provide to my customers.
You’ve witnessed the HIV/AIDS crisis from the front lines. What have the advancements been like?
The ‘80s were a scary time. AIDS came out of nowhere. Everyone was searching for cause and a cure. These were the days of AZT, Pneumocystis and KS [Kaposi sarcoma]. There was a lot of hopelessness. I lost a lot of patients and friends to AIDS. I remember a young couple coming in for IV supplies, and I thought to myself, “They are just children and having to learn to run an IV.” People were busy sewing pieces to commemorate the lives of their friends on the AIDS Quilt. It was about 15 years later when newer drugs and the introduction of the protease inhibitors came to the rescue.
How has LGBTQ Atlanta changed over the years?
The community was smaller and more closeted. It was primarily located in the Ansley Mall/Piedmont Park/Cheshire Bridge area. Everyone knew everyone. The increasing population has diluted the gay population,n and the intown cost of living has extended the perimeters to outside 285. Intown people have become much more accepting of the lifestyle.
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Be safe, healthy, happy, have fun, enjoy what life has to offer both in and out of the gay lifestyle. Go outside your comfort range and never limit yourself.
How much longer do you want to be a pharmacist?
I will turn 64 in January, and my goal is to work for Kroger until I turn 65. I still would like to work part-time and keep involved in the pharmacy profession.
Ansley Kroger Pharmacy is located at 1700 Monroe Dr NE. 404-872-0785. Photos by Russ Youngblood.
This feature originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue online here:
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