Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith praises retiring pharmacist Bruce Blackwell


When a local legend like Walmart Gonzales pharmacist Bruce Blackwell is scheduled to retire after more than 50 years of service, it is only fitting that he be feted by an NFL Hall of Famer.

Leading all-time rusher and former Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith came to Gonzales Thursday, June 27, to meet Blackwell, praise him for a long and illustrious career and offer him sage advice on what to do to remain active and vital after he hangs up his lab coat for the last time.

“I never in my lifetime thought something like this would happen,” Blackwell said of Smith’s visit. “I was completely caught off-guard. (Store manager) Danny (Trevino) called me in to come and visit with him some and I thought he was going to fire me. This was a complete surprise”

Smith said he was inspired by hearing Blackwell’s story of overcoming non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma en route to becoming the longest-tenured Walmart pharmacist in the nation as well as the impact he has had on the health and welfare of the Gonzales community.

“When you have pharmacists like him that serve in the community for over 50 some years — he's served probably some people’s mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, nieces and uncles and everything else because he's been here just that long,” Smith said. “He's seen young men and women grow up from little boys and little girls to now they are grown women and grown men that have their own kids now and he's probably serving those kids as well. He's kind of like the go-to figure here if you need some type of assistance when it comes down to a medication.

“EMTs, nurses, doctors, police officers, our military people who serve our country and protect our borders and do everything so everyday life can be normal — they all should be commended,” Smith added. “When something goes wrong, we want to go to someone like Bruce, when something goes wrong, we need to go to a doctor or we want the EMTs to come and help us and save us so that our doctors can do what they need to do. Even as a football player, when you get injured, you want to recover, so I may need a specialist to help me do that.”

Smith said he has been fortunate enough to fill his life with people like Blackwell — whether growing up in Pensacola, Florida, to stepping on campus in Gainesville at the University of Florida to walking out on the star in Texas Stadium and beyond.

“It's that kind of legacy that you leave behind and that you work with and that gives you this level of comfort that when you go into that office, to see someone like that — or see a “Bruce” — you feel comfortable that you will be taken care of,” Smith said.

For his part, Blackwell said the credit for success is not his alone, but should be shared by all those who have worked in the Walmart pharmacy with him.

“I’m just sort of the figurehead, because I couldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been for all the people back there,” Blackwell said. “This is a family — the whole store. And if we didn’t have this, I wouldn’t do this. That’s not just me. It’s the whole mentality of Walmart and the company. It’s just an honor to be here. I love the contact with people and the satisfaction I get when I hear someone say ‘I appreciate that. Thank you, Bruce.’ That just makes my day.

“Gonzales just opened its arms and embraced me as a person and our business here. It’s been a fantastic, fantastic journey through life and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Smith spoke to the resilience Blackwell has shown — including overcoming cancer — as a reason for his longevity.

“That's part of his DNA, that's part of his character,” Smith said. “That's one reason why he has lasted 50-some-odd years. That's one reason why he's such an important individual for this community because of those things. And when you do that, and you've been recognized for the longevity, the best analogy I can give you from my sports standpoint, is the best ability is availability. H's been available for this community for over 52 years. That's a beautiful thing.

“Some people think of this as a thankless job, or as a job itself, but you’ve got to have passion for what you do,” Smith added. “Because trust me, there's been many times folks probably walked up to that window and said some things that were not so nice to Bruce, I'm sure, but mentally overcoming that and understanding that the individual on that other side is really hurting right now and they need a resolution — he rose above the occasion and he looked beyond their faults, he looked beyond the words and he saw a human being on the other side of building, on the other side of the wall.”

Blackwell said he learned his work ethic from his parents, who taught him the value of work — especially his beloved mother.

“When they were in the fast food business, and I worked there, when I was young, for many years for them, all through high school and part of college. Then they let me go off to college and that's when I became a pharmacist and I’ve been working as one ever since,” Blackwell said.

Smith said he believes a large number of people living in the United States suffer from main-character syndrome, in which they believe everything going on is all about themselves.

“They are selfish, while Bruce is selfless,” Smith said. “That’s the way I see it and that’s the only way you make it this far and be able to serve a community they way he’s been able to serve this community for more than 50 years.”

Smith retired from the gridiron 20 years ago in 2004, but found his calling in real estate after he hung up his cleats because that became his new passion.

“I think the key to retirement is finding another passion because passion number one is no longer an option, because you're just putting it behind you,” Smith said. “But finding that second passion itself, something that keeps you motivated, getting up in the morning motivated to live life, outside of just traveling and just relaxing and not stimulating your mind, can be a problem. In my opinion, this is just my opinion. I'm still young, I'm 55 years old, and I'm still moving, but at the end of the day, I’ve just seen it over the years of people that just slow it down completely, and do nothing with life and they just have a tendency to just wither away.

“I don't want to see that happen to him. I mean, he's been a lively guy for 50 some odd years, so why stop? Keep on doing, stay active, stay motivated, find things that you're very passionate about and just keep living life.”

“I know I need to do that — I really do,” Blackwell said. “I don’t want to come home and just be watching television all day long. I want to be out and be with people. I need that and I’ve always been happy when I am around people.”

When it comes to how to be a Hall of Famer in life, Smith served up great words of inspiration.

“I always tell people — don't try to be like me. Try to be better than me,” Smith said. “I'm trying to live my life to the best that I can, and if that's inspiring to someone, great. I want to inspire you. I mean, I think all of our lives should be one that inspires others to be the best version of themselves. The only way that you can do that is by trying to do the right thing.

“I'm gonna say ‘try’ to do the right things. We don't always do the right thing. We are human; we fail at times. But learning from our mistakes, getting better and better every day, coming to work with the proper attitude, knowing that I have a character of integrity and I have a life of service to provide and whatever that may mean to you individually. It's not all about you; a lot of times, it's about how you treat others.”

Blackwell’s advice was to “enjoy what you're doing” but always be ready to embrace change.

“This company is constantly changing and you have to embrace change for change,” Blackwell said. “It will knock you down if you are not ready, so you have to be prepared to change.”