When Bill Neu began his first drugstore job at age 13, he did not have any grand ambitions; he was just trying to save up for new bicycle tires. Now, after more than 60 years behind a pharmacy counter, Neu is retiring and leaving a decadeslong legacy as a business owner, former mayor and lifelong friend to many in Denton.
“I used to tell Bill he was my doctor No. 2,” said Caroline Way, who has known Neu since the late 1950s. “He is just a fabulous man.”
Neu grew up in Whitesboro, where his first job was at the soda fountain of his hometown pharmacy. Back then, drugstores were popular hangouts, offering old-fashioned malt shakes and penny candy and serving as a cultural touchstone for American life in the 1950s and ’60s. Neu wasn’t sure at the time what he wanted to do but, after he witnessed the pharmacist’s role in the community, he took an interest in the career.
“I began to notice how well respected the owner of the pharmacy was and how he was dedicated to helping people who had medical needs, and sometimes financial needs because they couldn’t pay for the medicine and that sort of thing, and I thought, ‘That might be something I’m interested in,’” Neu said.
The owner took Neu under his wing and, after graduating from high school in 1955, Neu attended the University of Texas College of Pharmacy in Austin. He married his wife, Betty, in high school and after college, the two moved to the Denton area.
Neu worked at and co-owned several North Texas drugstores before opening Bill Neu Pharmacy in 1989. He semi-retired after selling it but stayed on to help a few days a week, not yet ready to leave his customers behind.
At age 83, Neu will finally hang up his white coat for good when he retires from what is now Allen Pharmacy on Wednesday. The staff already threw him a going-away party, where friends, family and customers celebrated his years as a dedicated pharmacist.
“He put in a lot of hard work over the years taking care of a lot of people,” said owner Brandon Allen, who bought the drugstore from S&J Pharmacy in 2017. “He was always excellent with customers and had a good rapport with everybody. People come in the store and they want to talk to Bill or ask when he’s working next.”
His customers say he will be sorely missed.
“I’m happy for him but I feel like I’m losing a friend and a good pharmacist,” said Keith Shelton, who has known Neu for 20 or 30 years.
Though he could have retired many years ago, his friends say Neu chose to keep working to take care of his customers, many of them fourth-generation.
“He tended to his customers like they were family and it’s my belief he stayed there to make sure they were taken care of,” longtime friend and customer Dale Brown said. “He just needed to watch after them.”
That care for others has extended beyond Neu’s work as a pharmacist. In 1969, Neu ran for the Denton City Council and, after serving three years, was chosen as Denton’s mayor in 1972. He held the position until 1975. Although he has stepped back from local politics since, those who know him say he has never stopped serving the community.
Neu volunteers with his daughter-in-law at the Denton Community Food Center weekly and helps run the Sunday school at First United Methodist Church, where he and Betty have been longtime members.
Bill and Betty recently sold their home and moved to Good Samaritan Society’s Denton Village retirement community, where Betty says they plan to spend more time reading and with their three sons and five grandchildren, who live in the area. The couple will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary in March.
Though Bill’s friends and customers agree the break is well-deserved, Betty Neu bets his retirement won’t look too different from his working days.
“I don’t know what he’s going to do after the end of this month,” Betty said, laughing. “I’m sure he’ll find something to do around here to get involved and help out because he likes to stay busy.”
As for his decision to stay behind the counter all these years, Bill Neu says he has no regrets.
“During those 60 years I might have had a half a dozen times I got up in the morning wasn’t ready to go to work, but it had nothing to do with dealing with people,” Neu said. “I always enjoyed dealing with my customers and my friends and getting to know their families. I already miss them.”