By Connie Harris
Neither Martha nor David Shepard began their careers with intentions of returning to their roots in Middle Tennessee. Martha (HSC ’73) was raised in Clarksville and David (Martin ’69, HSC ’74, ’75) in Dickson.
“We wanted to travel, to see the world,” Martha says. Having met in pharmacy school in Memphis, they married shortly after David’s graduation, and they were excited to begin their life together. It was a daunting task to find a location that was well suited for them both.
There was Saudi Arabia, a popular place for new graduates to practice. The pay was substantial and the area was safe, but women weren’t allowed to work there. Martha did not want to go somewhere that would prevent her from working in pharmacy. They explored an offer from Columbia University to teach, but that didn’t quite work out, either.
Just before graduation, David stumbled upon a job posting for a clinical pharmacist in the Veteran’s Administration’s mental health program in Nashville. A Vietnam veteran himself, he applied, interviewed and accepted an offer for his dream job.
They settled in Dickson, about 40 miles from Nashville. David commuted between Dickson and Nashville to work for the VA and, eventually, work with Martha to establish and maintain pharmacies in the area. In the nearly 40 years since, they have managed four local drugstores and affected care and health policy locally and statewide.
While they raised Ben (Knoxville ’08), Stacey (Knoxville ’03) and Chris, Martha sought additional training and introduced innovative therapies to patients and physicians. David made a career at the VA and discovered new and expanding business opportunities. He retired after 22 years of service to the VA and practiced full time in the community.
Seeing first hand the existing and emerging challenges for the health-care system, he decided to make a difference through local and then state political offices. As a current state legislator, he is responsible for bills that have ultimately reduced health-care costs for the state while maintaining quality of and access to care.
Although they are entering retirement and welcoming grandchildren, their impact continues through legislative action and volunteerism, such as their annual medical mission trips to Haiti and Belize.
Martha was recently honored by the local chapter of the NAACP “for devoted service, dedication, and loyalty to the political aspects of justice for civil rights and voter rights.” She struggled to explain what she had done to receive the award. She described advocacy, activism and service through their chosen profession. “It’s all intertwined,” she says. For the Shepards, it’s just what they do.