A few of the many memorable Packy stories

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It happens every spring. Once more, without any preamble or prodding, the NACDS Annual Meeting is on the horizon. True, this seminal event, the week that annually brings the chain drug industry together, will be a bit different — and possibly a bit more confusing — this year. For one thing, it’s virtual. For another, it’s virtual.

NACDSWhat that will mean it’s still a bit too early to tell. But this much is certain: It will remain what it has always been, the most significant event on the annual chain drug industry calendar.

And speaking of the Annual Meeting, it invariably conjures up memories of meetings past, and the individuals, past and present, who have always made it special — and will doubtless continue to do so.

And speaking of special individuals, one such name invariably comes to mind at this special time of year. Certainly, chain drug retailing does not lack for icons or legends or retailers and supplies who are now busy forging a legend that future Annual Meeting-goers will ultimately recall fondly — or not so …

Against that backdrop, this space will devote itself to one such legend, a man who, over the course of a long lifetime, perhaps influenced more chain drug store workers than anyone before or since.

Not that Packy Nespeca is no longer with us. Indeed, he is very much with us, enjoying the Southern California sunshine and basking in an environment where the living, at least in theory, is easy.

Is there anyone among us who can’t recall or remember a Packy story, one that never fails to bring a smile or a tear — or both. After all, that’s Packy’s way — and always has been. Indeed, stories abound. There’s the one that turns on the annual skiing trip Packy organized and supervised for American Greetings, the company that will forever be linked with Packy.

Seems that one year he invited a retailer who, after the invitations went out, changed greeting card suppliers, moving from AG to Hallmark. When Packy called to enquire whether the individual would attend the outing, he replied this way: “Don’t you know Packy. I’m no longer an American Greetings account. I’ve switched to Hallmark.” Responded Packy: “Oh yes, I’ve heard. My question is this: Will you be joining us for the ski outing?”

That’s Packy. With whom It’s always been about the individual, never about business. Well, almost never. I have my own memories. One time, at a Cleveland Browns football game — the Browns had just returned to Cleveland after previously decamping to Baltimore — to which American Greetings invited me, Packy asked if I’d like to meet John Glenn, former astronaut and, at that time, U.S. senator. I readily agreed, whereupon Packy brought me to the senator’s suite. Most people would have introduced us by saying, “Excuse me, Senator, but I have a friend here who would like to meet you.” Not Packy. He approached Glenn and announced that he was about to give the senator the opportunity to meet his dear friend, David Pinto.

That’s Packy as well.

Indeed, the Packy Nespeca story is one of a life well lived. He was always doing someone a small kindness, going out of his way, often for a stranger, with no obvious opportunity for a payback. For Packy, as will the memorable character in that Tennessee Williams play, has always depended on the kindness of strangers.

To end this with yet another Packy story, there was the time, at an industry event, when Packy, sitting on the dais next to Brooklyn Dodger great Duke Snider, sought me out (I was at a table about three miles from the dais) to ask whether I’d like to meet the Duke of Flatbush. Being a big baseball (Yankees) dean, I easily agreed. Packy introduced us, and the Duke was gracious throughout our interview until I — remembering that he never signed autographs when I was a kid — did what any 55-year-old baseball fan would do. I asked him why not. He answered honestly, as he would to any 55-year-old kid. “You damn kids,” he said, “you would never leave me alone.”

Both Packy and I laughed — when we were safely out of the Duke’s earshot.


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