By Catherine Lazenby
Joe Ed Holt ‘92, a dedicated pharmacist and the recently elected president of the Georgia Pharmacy Association (GPhA), has a life story that has been a rollercoaster of struggles and successes. Yet, the moral of his tale is one he wants to share – the importance of giving forward.
Hailing from what he calls “the metropolis” of Adel, Ga., Holt was inspired by his father, who transitioned from being a pharmacist to a physician. “I admired the way my dad always put patients first,” reflected Holt. “He was the last of his kind who routinely made house calls, and he took care of those he knew couldn’t pay. Even though I respected him greatly for what he did, I always wished I had more time with him. I decided at an early age that I wanted to do something in healthcare, but I also wanted a life away from the job. My dad always talked about pharmacists in the highest regard, and I determined that being one was my calling.”
Holt looked up to local pharmacists, such as Charles Moore ‘73, Van Rowan ‘57, Ralph Griffis ‘61, and Johnny Flowers ‘59, not only for their expertise but also for their genuine dedication to the community. “The community pharmacists who served our small town were great examples of the profession,” said Holt. “Not only were they great pharmacists, but they were great men who were heroes in my eyes because of how they cared for people. I knew I wanted to be like them.”
Choosing to attend the UGA College of Pharmacy was a natural decision for Holt, as his father had attended the same institution. “I grew up listening to stories of his time at UGA,” he said. “I knew at an early age it was UGA or bust for me!” During his studies, Holt developed a keen interest in mental health and neuropharmacology and became involved in various organizations, such as Kappa Psi and the student chapter of the American Pharmacists Association.
Holt had nothing but praise for several faculty members who became mentors during his time at UGA. “Joe Bill Dickerson ‘56 latched onto me when I first got there and was always available when I needed help. Ken Duke ‘77 was a great friend and role model, as was Flynn Warren ‘70,” he shared fondly.
However, his journey became rocky at UGA. “One of the uphill battles in my story is my recovery from addiction,” he said. “My disease really started to rear its ugly head while I was in pharmacy school. I was young and away from home for the first time. I really wanted to be accepted, and I thought alcohol was the key to being a part of the group. Flynn was one of the first people to recognize that I had a problem and really pushed me to go to treatment while I was in school. Of course, like all great addicts, I did not think I had a problem. I will always be grateful to him, though, for his insistence. He planted a seed that would eventually lead me to do the right thing and get help when I was ready.”
Holt’s career path took many unexpected turns. “To quote the great bard, Jerry Garcia, ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been’,” Holt mused. After graduation, he ventured into community pharmacy, working at Barnes Drugs in Valdosta, Ga., Rite Aid in Adel, and Harvey’s Supermarket Pharmacy in Nashville, Ga. But his battle with alcohol addiction continued, and it started to affect his work. In desperation, he turned to hydrocodone. “I thought I would have more control over it. In no time, it had total control over me,” Holt said. On October 8, 2001, Holt was terminated from his job for stealing. “At home, pondering a life without drugs, I attempted suicide by overdose. This led me to being hospitalized in a local mental health facility.”
That’s when fate stepped in. “While I was in the hospital, (the late) Dr. Jim Bartling, who was a past president of the Georgia Pharmacy Association and a leader in GPhA’s PharmAssist (now PharmWell) program, came into my life and offered me help, assistance, and direction about my next steps towards recovery,” he said. “I eventually agreed to treatment and spent four months at Talbott Recovery Campus.” During his stay, he was introduced to Dr. Merrill Norton, a CoP clinical associate professor emeritus, who became his “recovery guru. ” Holt surrendered his pharmacy license upon entry to Talbott; he was eventually reinstated in October 2002.
Embracing a new path, Holt found his calling as a clinical consultant pharmacist with PruittHealth in Valdosta, a long-term skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility. “To see residents’ lives positively impacted by recommendations that I’ve made is one of the most rewarding aspects of my pharmacy career,” he commented. Holt served as a consultant for three years, and was later promoted to clinical manager for South Georgia and North Florida at PruittHealth. (Coincidentally, the founder of PruittHealth, the late Neil Little Pruitt, Sr. was a 1957 graduate of the College of Pharmacy, and the current Chair and CEO, Neil Little Pruitt, Jr. serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, among other key state and national positions.)
“As we look at the future of what pharmacy will one day be, I feel that it is up to us to make sure the profession stays strong and vibrant.”
Holt’s experiences led him to adopt the value of giving forward. “There were so many people who helped me while I was struggling,” he explained. “The greatest way I can honor these individuals is to dedicate myself to ‘giving forward’ or helping others in need.”
He explained, “There are two areas that I see as positive investments in the profession. First, is membership in the Georgia Pharmacy Association, which has a national reputation of being on the forefront of fighting for the pharmacists in the state and is the only state pharmacy organization that represents all practice settings. GPhA has led the charge for pharmacist and technician administered immunizations, anti-steering legislation, fair dispensing fees, and so much more. The second area is investing in students. Pharmacy school is a lot more expensive than when I first graced its halls, and students are encumbered with huge student debt that often limits where they can work when they graduate since they have to take the jobs that are higher paying. Helping fund scholarships or making gifts to the UGA College of Pharmacy will help offset the debt that these students are assuming and will allow them to practice in whatever setting they choose.”
Holt currently supports the UGA College of Pharmacy’s Enhancement Fund.
“As we look at the future of what pharmacy will one day be, I feel that it is up to us to make sure the profession stays strong and vibrant,” Holt concluded. “Any investment, even a small one, for a student is an investment into the future of the profession. Pharmacy has been very good to me, and I want to make sure that it continues to thrive.”
Ken Duke, former clinical faculty member in Athens and assistant dean at the extended campus in Savannah, summed up his former student’s contributions. “Joe Ed was a compassionate student, always ‘all in’ in anything he pursued. It’s great to see his passion and abilities benefiting his patients, while sharing his leadership and energies to serve the profession.”
Holt’s journey and legacy will always be one of resilience, mentorship, and giving forward. As he continues to touch lives and make a difference, his story is a testament to the power of compassion and determination.