Kim Wilkinson - He’s just what the doctor ordered
He was the friendly face of pharmacy in Queenstown for 32 years, greeting everyone from insect-ravaged, sunburnt tourists to worried mothers of sick babies and elderly collecting prescriptions, all with a warm, broad smile.
Kim Wilkinson was the third-generation pharmacist to own Wilkinsons Pharmacy, which still bears the family name at the bottom of Queenstown Mall. Kim’s grandfather Gordon Wilkinson took over the pharmacy there in 1921 after buying Hotop’s Dispensary from Lewis Hotop. Dad Stan, a longtime Geraldine pharmacist, managed from afar after Gordon’s passing in 1950 until Kim and wife Marie returned from overseas, moving to Queenstown in 1984 when they took over the business.
Both South Canterbury raised, they’d spent five years travelling, Kim gaining hospital and retail pharmacy experience, including two stints in a private Saudi Arabian hospital.
The 1960s were idyllic times growing up in Geraldine. Kim represented South Canterbury at hockey, and then Otago while at university. Some good teenage parties were had in rural Geraldine woolsheds and things at times got a little out of control during the ‘Unicol Rocket Wars’ while at university in the mid-1970s.
He and Marie started dating one summer while both home from university and Kim then scored an internship at Wellington’s well-known Eddie Fletcher Pharmacy in Lambton Quay with Peter Olsen. “He mentored me. He was breaking new ground in retail pharmacy in the 1970s, importing top line fragrances.”
He and Marie then worked their way around Australia, backpacking through South-East Asia into Nepal and India before landing in London where Kim started at the new Cromwell Private Hospital.
Two locums in the Saudi hospital relieved the Irish pharmacist “desperate to get home for a drink once a year”, Kim says. It catered for the thousands of construction workers building the grand five-terminal King Khalid International Airport. “We were always advised not to go into the centre of Riyadh on Fridays because of the public beheadings.”
Six months in a campervan around Europe included several nights camped beneath the Eiffel Tower arches while renovations were underway.
A six-week camping safari through Africa turned into three months when fighting broke out in Southern Sudan forcing their truck party to divert through Central African Republic, Zaire and Uganda. “We got lost for three days in the Nubian Desert and came across some nomads who drew us a map to the Red Sea in the sand. “There was no communication, so it was a bit concerning.”
Back home via the US and Kim and Marie bought Stan’s share in Wilkinsons Queenstown. “It was pretty special to continue that legacy,” he says.
They’d quickly made a success of the business, expanding twice, taking over next-door shops – the toy and book shop which they relocated to O’Connells and Marie ran as Toyworld, then Chocolate Cottage which they relocated to Camp Street.
However, their biggest challenge came in 1999 when the 100-year record floods inundated the pharmacy with metre-high water. They managed to wade in and get 95% of stock to the upstairs storeroom, operating from a temporary space in Athol Street, then trestle tables on concrete for nine months while the rebuild was completed.
There have been lighthearted moments like the methadone programme patient who popped in to say they should secure the skylight in the roof as he’d climbed in overnight gaining access to the stairwell, but fortunately not the storeroom. “Sure enough, his boot prints were all up the walls,” laughs Kim.
Like many prominent Queenstown businessmen Kim’s done his time in heels, taking out the Winter Festival Drag Queen crown one out of his three years competing as a very convincing ‘Kimberley’.
He’s also impressed as a dab hand at delivering babies when second son Henry arrived in record time in the bathroom at a concert held in a local private residence, before the ambulance could find them. Kim was guided by two elderly women on walking sticks who happened to be there – fortunately one was a retired midwife and the other a retired doctor. All was well.
Kim’s been at the coalface of the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce affairs for decades, an early co-founder serving two terms totalling 13 years on the board – he and Marie recently honoured as life members. He’s clocked countless volunteer hours on The Mall Retail Association, Frankton Kindy Establishment Committee, as chairperson of the Queenstown Primary School Board of Trustees, Queenstown Golf Club Board, Lakes District Hospital Foundation, and as Wakatipu Presbyterian Church property and finance convenor. While retired from business, he still serves on three of these.
Throughout the years Kim and Marie employed 250 staff and forged lifelong friendships. “They were all great people, and we still keep in touch with many of them.”