When Dorothy Hui first went to UBC she intended on becoming a forester.
But in the late ’70s there weren’t many jobs for foresters.
“Coming from a very humble background where I couldn’t take a whole lot of time to figure out what I wanted to do I thought ‘okay, how can I switch and still get a job at the end of this’,” she said.
With some advice from her godmother regarding the possibility for flexible hours as a pharmacist, as well as the fact that the difference between first year forestry and first year pharmacy was only one class, Dorothy switched programs.
“I think I am happier as a pharmacist than I would have been as a forester,” she said with a laugh.
Steven Hui had a similar experience in his second year at UBC. He realized he wouldn’t be able to get a good job if he graduated with a degree in general sciences.
“I remember one day just walking around the neighbourhood contemplating ‘well what do I do?’ and I came upon this little clinic pharmacy and walked in,” he recalled. “There was this pharmacist there, a young fella probably not more than 30, and I started asking questions and it was a really interesting discussion, probably 15 or 20 minutes, and I walked out and I said ‘I have to look at this a bit more’.”
Steven followed that conversation with research into the pharmacy curriculum, and it looked to him like the combination of business and health care was something that he could do.
One evening after Dorothy had been playing intramural volleyball and Steven had been watching a hockey game they both ended up at The Pit, a student pub at UBC, and introduced themselves.
Thirty-some years later, the couple have sold Pharmasave, their long time business, in order to travel and spend more time together.
Both Steven and Dorothy graduated in 1983.
“When I think of university…the pharmacy course was really not a very fun course, but it was the people, it was the camaraderie in that group that really pulled us through,” Dorothy said.
Though they were dating, they went separate ways after graduation, Dorothy got a job at Shoppers Drug Mart in Port Alberni and Steven got a job in Prince Rupert.
In 1984 Steven moved to Revelstoke, even further away from Dorothy.
“I thought, ‘well I would like to move closer’,” Dorothy recalled, not only to Steven but to her parents, who live in Jaffray, which is 45 minutes west of Fernie. “It was really difficult to have a relationship when one person is on the Island and one person is in the Interior.”
So she got a job in Golden.
“I didn’t really want to work in the same town as [Steven], our relationship just wasn’t at that point,” she said.
In 1987 Steven bought Pharmasave from his employer and Dorothy moved to Revelstoke to help with the business.
“I worked three years for the previous owner, prior to buying it, and then the opportunity came up and I was like ‘why not?!’,” Steven said, laughing at how naive he was about business at the time. “The business was a bit of a leap but I had good mentorship.”
Dorothy sang high praises of the Moody’s, who owned Pharmasave before she and Steven did.
“People like that don’t come along very often,” she said. “Very gracious, very generous, and really wanted [us] to succeed.”
Even before the Hui’s bought the business Pharmasave had a long history in the community and though each new owner reinvented the business a little bit, it was the Hui’s who moved, in 2002, from the original location on Mackenzie Ave. to where it is now.
“That was a big psychological barrier to overcome, to actually physically move the store from where it had been traditionally for 50 plus years,” Dorothy recalled.
“It was very emotional,” Steven added. “There was a lot of sentiment attached to the old location.”
It took about a year for the business to re-adjust to the move, but the Hui’s pushed onward.
“The market changes every few years and every five years I say you have to really look at your business and say ‘is this working?’,” Steven said. “If you were to start up the business right now, knowing what the market is now, would you be doing the same thing, if you say yes you are going to find yourself falling behind so quickly.”
As well as staying on top of the changing market, they focused on good customer service.
“I always used to tell my staff…everyone that graces your door has signed your paycheque and you can’t forget that,” Dorothy said.
Steven worked on a similar philosophy.
“I can remember one of my mentors saying…’People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’,” Steven said.
On top of running the business, Steven and Dorothy raised two daughters and Steven did a lot of volunteering with the community.
The first club Steven got involved with when he moved to town was the Kinsmen.
“It was a very, very well run organization and it sort of left an impression on me about the importance of connecting with relationships and [that] doing good things can be fun and rewarding,” he said.
From there he volunteered with the Hub Centre, which provided mental health services, the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, the Health Foundation, the Community Foundation as well as several city advisory committees.
“In a smaller community there is an opportunity for people to get involved and if you don’t get involved and nothing happens you can’t blame anybody really because it doens’t happen on its own,” Steven said.
All of these commitments took Steven away from home quite a bit, but Dorothy could not have been more supportive, Steven said.
Where he was busy with community commitments, Dorothy was busy with their daughters who were avid dancers and swimmers.
But now that both kids have grown up and moved away from home, Steven has been slowly stepping back from his community commitments.
“We are dinosaurs… it’s time for newer and fresher energy to be out there,” Dorothy said with a laugh.
Steven agreed, saying he feels the same way about his profession.
“I can say, I am a dinosaur, truthfully,” he said. “The young pharmacists, the new graduates, they have so much more potential.”
After a medical scare a few years ago, as well as loosing a close friend, who appeared in peak health, unexpectedly, the two decided it was time to slow down a bit.
“For 30 years you live, breath your business and more often than not when you live a life of business whatever happens with staff and business affects your life,” Steven said. “Now that our daughters have moved away and we looked at what we wanted in the next three to five years it just wasn’t about growing the business anymore, it was more personal things.”
Dorothy said the goal has always been to get out of the business with their health and she said they have achieved that.
“It’s about the quality,” she said.
Steven said the thought of retiring is intimidating, so for now he is just moving on professionally, business wise as well as personally.
“Dorothy has spent too many nights, too many weeks, too many months, too many years waiting for me and being tolerant, understanding, it needs to be reciprocated,” he said.
At the moment future plans include working on projects around the house and reconnecting with old friends. But in the meantime they taking a trip on the trans-Siberian railway from Bator, Mongolia to Moscow, Russia.