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December 28, 2018

Remington druggist reflects on 43 years of service

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“No matter how hard I tried, I found it very difficult,” Wilbur Heflin says of his four years (1988-92) on the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors. “I’m a compromiser, and I found it difficult to get things done, because everybody always thought the worst.”
His philosophy in life is everyone matters and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. That’s an awesome thing.
— Fauquier Hospital Auxiliary President Darlene Kelly
Wilbur Lee Heflin
• Age: 79

• Home: Near Remington.

• Work: Retired pharmacist, former owner of Remington Drug Co., 1972-2015.

• Elective office: Fauquier County Board of Supervisors, Lee District, 1988-92, Remington mayor, 1987; Remington Town Council, 1986-87; Remington Town Council, 1974-75.

• Family: Widower; 4 children; 2 stepchildren; 14 grandchildren; 2 great grandchildren.

• Education: Bachelor’s degree, pharmacy, University of Wyoming, 1961; Warrenton High School, 1957.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The retired Remington pharmacist never thought twice about covering the medication costs of customers struggling to make ends meet.

“If I had to pay for it out of my pocket, I paid for it out of my pocket,” Wilbur L. Heflin explains matter-of-factly during an interview at his home just west of town. “That’s just the way I worked. If you needed it, you needed it.

“There are some people that just don’t have the money, and you have to help them. That’s part of the American way.”

For more than four decades of professional and volunteer service work in the community, Mr. Heflin received the Fauquier Hospital Auxiliary’s annual “Top of the Tree” award during the nonprofit’s Dec. 5 “Lights for Life” celebration at Fauquier Springs Country Club near Warrenton.

“When you think of Mr. Heflin, he didn’t just reach the Remington area where his pharmacy was, he was out reaching a lot of places” in Southern Fauquier, Culpeper and other counties, auxiliary President Darlene Kelly says. “His philosophy in life is everyone matters and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. That’s an awesome thing.”

Warrenton businessman Jim Rankin, who served with the pharmacist on the county board of supervisors from 1988 to 1992, agrees.

“Wilbur’s a good fella,” says Mr. Rankin, whose family owns Rankin’s True Value Hardware and Rankin’s Furniture in Warrenton. “He’s done a lot for the community — a lot more than people know.”

The 79-year-old Fredericksburg native brushes aside that sort of talk.

“A lot more could have been done,” quietly insists Mr. Heflin, who served on the Fauquier Hospital Board of Directors from 2001 to 2007.

In a roundabout way born of tragedy, Mr. Heflin got hooked early on the idea of a pharmacy career.

“My dad was a carpenter who worked when it wasn’t hunting season,” he recalls. “And a lot of people did that during those times. So, we kind of lived off the land.”

Until his father died in 1944 as a result of a hunting accident.

“A shotgun slid off a (tree) trunk, went off and hit him in the groin.”

At age 5, Mr. Heflin lost his father, just 35 years old.

With no source of income, Mr. Heflin and his family — mother, grandmother and his younger brother Robert — moved from their Richardsville home in Culpeper County to Remington.

At the invitation of his great uncle and druggist Evan H. “Doc” Ashby Sr., they lived rent-free over the pharmacy at 207 E. Main St. from 1944 to 1947. The family then moved to a home on Washington Street.

Mr. Heflin’s mother worked as a clerk at the pharmacy.

“She did everything except fill prescriptions,” he recalls.

From the start, Mr. Heflin performed routine chores around the drug store — washing dishes, sweeping the floor and eventually manning the register.

“Looking back, they were really good times,” he says. “I can remember Saturday night. We wouldn’t close until 12 o’clock, people coming in and having ice cream sundaes and sodas, sitting at the tables and talking about what was going on in town.”

> Video at bottom of story

In those days, the pharmacy doubled as something like a general store.

“We sold everything you could imagine,” Mr. Heflin says. “Garden seed, paint, shotgun shells.”

Watching his uncle’s every move, Mr. Heflin knew before long that he wanted to follow in the pharmacist’s footsteps.

“It was his influence,” he says. “He was a professional. He wore a bow tie and a dress shirt. It was his knowledge, the way he handled himself, his ability to handle finances.

“When I was 5 years old in 1944, that was pretty impressive,” recalls Mr. Heflin, smiling.

The 1957 Warrenton High School graduate earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from the University of Wyoming.

He chose to study there largely based on glowing comments by a drug salesman who did business with the Remington store and had received a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from university.

The teenager also headed west because he wanted a change.

“The thing was, back then, if you lived in Virginia, you went to school in Virginia and you probably went into business in Virginia,” Mr. Heflin says. “You never saw anything else. You never met anybody else. And I thought, ‘I want to see more of the world than what I’m seeing in Remington, Virginia’.”

In 1961, he graduated from the University of Wyoming and married his first wife, Susan. The following year, Mr. Heflin and a friend bought the pharmacy in Moscow, Idaho.

“I had a Corvair and $200 and he had a Lincoln and $5,000, because he had been out of school longer than I had.”

The partnership lasted about 10 years.

“While the business grew, it wasn’t fast enough to support two families,” Mr. Heflin says.

The Heflins had had four children when they started to feel the financial pinch.

“So, it was either purchase another store in the area — and we talked about it – or I would come back and take over the (Remington) store.”

Mr. Heflin’s partner bought him out, the family moved to Remington, where he purchased the Main Street pharmacy and building from his great uncle in 1972.

Interested elective office, Mr. Heflin in 1974 sought and won a two-year term on the Remington Town Council.

In 1986, the council to appointed him to complete an unexpired term. The next year, the panel appointed him mayor to finish the term of John Henry Jones, who had resigned.

A proposed annexation to more than triple Remington dominated his second tour on the council. The Southern Fauquier town measures about two-tenths of a square mile.

“If we could have gotten that annexation deal, we would have been the perfect spot to develop the town center that Bealeton ended up doing,” says Mr. Heflin, a vocal and dogged advocate for the failed effort.

In 1987, the Democratic Party nominee won election as Lee District representative on the five-member board of supervisors. But, Mr. Heflin never took to the job.

“No matter how hard I tried, I found it very difficult. I’m a compromiser, and I found it difficult to get things done, because everybody always thought the worst.”

Back then, development issues often sharply divided the community.

“The group that was considered no-growthers remained that way — not giving one way or another.”

Land-use rules sometimes made it legally impossible for the board to kill a development application, Mr. Heflin says.

“But, if you voted in favor of a particular subdivision or particular development, then you immediately achieved the title of a ‘pro-growther’,” he says. “It was discouraging.”

He and Supervisor Georgia Herbert, who represented Scott District, served one term together on the board.

On some land-development matters, critics labeled him “pro-growth” and Ms. Herbert’s detractors called her “anti-growth.”

The two occasionally crossed swords over development issues.

“Georgia’s super-intelligent, and I always respected her,” Mr. Heflin says.

For her part, Ms. Hebert says she never doubted his integrity or determination to do right by the county.

“I felt always that I was working with somebody who was honorable, smart and committed to the community,” The Plains lawyer says. “We might not agree on what the best plan might be, or what the best way to get there might be.

“But I never had a question about what he knew, what he was doing, whether he thought it through, whether he prepared for that decision.”

Contentious issues marked his first and only term on the board.

The idea of establishing a new county government center at Corral Farm just south of Warrenton backfired.

Many insisted that moving most county government functions out of town would lead to downtown’s economic ruin.

Among board members, only Mr. Heflin and Mr. Rankin supported such a plan.

“The whole town revolted against us,” the former Lee District supervisor says.

Today, the supervisors continue to wrestle with county government office space demands. The board last month rejected a concept to purchase the vacant BB&T Bank building at 21 Main St. in Warrenton to house unspecified county agencies.

After an exhaustive search for a new landfill site, the 1988 board of supervisors agreed to expand the existing one at Corral Farm, which infuriated neighbors.

“It was one thing after another,” Mr. Heflin says of his tumultuous, four-year term.

But no dispute during those years rivaled the controversy over the lease-purchase contract between the board and local developer SPR Corp. to construct what would be named the Alice Jane Childs Building at the foot of Hospital Hill.

When the board tried to back walk away from the deal, the developer sued the county.

Four of five supervisors, including Mr. Heflin, testified during the trial in Fauquier County Circuit Court.

As part of a settlement, Fauquier purchased the building.

“We ended up owning it,” Mr. Heflin says. “And we ended up owning it because it was necessary.”

The debacle also helped end his political career.

“It made up my mind — that I didn’t want to serve another term,” Mr. Heflin admits. “That did it.”

Four years of dickering and the challenges of “trying to get things done” also left bitter taste in his mouth.

“After one term, you’ve compromised yourself,” Mr. Heflin says. “There’s no way that you have not. I felt like I could not then run on ‘I’m my own boss. I do what I want to do. I’m not going to be talked into these things’.”

Steve Crosby served as county administrator from 1978 to 1990.

“Wilbur was just such a nice guy,” says Mr. Crosby, who resigned midway through Mr. Heflin’s term. “And I don’t mean this in a negative way. It turned out he was very naïve.

“He came in full of expectations that everyone eventually would become reasonable and would meet some middle ground somewhere and make things better in general.”

But Mr. Heflin soon learned otherwise.

“I think he was shocked to find out that some people just didn’t operate that way,” Mr. Crosby says. “They weren’t interested in any kind of compromise or softening of their positions. And that really frustrated him.”

Leaving the board after one term freed Mr. Heflin to focus on family and the business, which he sold Dec. 1, 2015.

Until then, the Ashby/Heflin clan had owned and operated a pharmacy in Remington since 1908. Mr. Heflin ran the business for 43 of those years.

He and his second wife, Bettie, talked about they would spend their retirement years together.

“Travel, the whole bit,” Mr. Heflin says of their plans.

But 45 days after the pharmacy sold, Mrs. Heflin died at age 81 as a result of an aneurism. The couple had been married for 31 years.

In February, Mr. Heflin will move to North Carolina, near his son Mitch, a geriatric physician and assistant professor of medicine at Duke University.

“I’m going there because of Mitch,” he says. “Him being a geriatric physician and being at Duke — that’s a big plus.”

He will live in a planned community that guarantees the full range of care options to allow residents to age in place.

Moving there will provide him the company of peers with shared interests, Mr. Heflin says.

“I needed to be around people that I could talk to – that we could build on each other,” he says. “You could discuss events, food. If you wanted to go out some place, there’s got to be somebody there that wants to go and have dinner or that type of thing.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at or 540-270-0300. 

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