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Mario Calanna: Pharmacy pioneer on life, death and family

Seal Media Group, Australia

The respected businessman has been awarded life membership to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, having joined upon graduating in 1971 before building Calanna’s Pharmacy on his father’s Woree cane paddock in 1977.He has become a fixture of the suburb and has built a thriving business empire with 11 pharmacies across Cairns, Townsville, Innisfail, Atherton and the Gold Coast.Recognisable to generations of Far Northerners – he is now serving his first customers’s grandchildren – the old school gentleman has always had a friendly smile, a ready ear and kind words when customers needed help.He is now facing a health battle of his own after being diagnosed with blood cancer three years ago.But even the realisation of one’s own mortality cannot keep a good man down.“We thought we had it under control and it was behaving itself, but it flared up again,” Mr Calanna said.“I’m back on treatment now. It does change your focus on life and your energy.“You’re living on blood test results, but it allows you to reflect on life and you meet some wonderful people along the way.“When you know you’re not going to live forever, time becomes a little bit more precious than it used to be.”Mario Calanna’s winning speechMr Calanna helped his dad section off a portion of the family farm in Woree to build Australia’s first integrated pharmacy and medical centre in Australia back in 1977.It is still very much the family operation he built with wife Linda, daughter Catherine Hackett and son Matthew Calanna all taking lead roles in its success.The industry has transformed from typewriters and water rollers for sticking on labels to computers and robotic dispensers, but the key premise remains the same.“One basic thing that hasn’t changed is the focus on the customer,” he said.“That has always been the number one thing for me since we opened.”Mr Calanna won a national oratory competition in 1989 for a heart-rending speech arguing that having “time to love” was the most valuable Australian possession.It is clear he still believes his words from so long ago.“It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got, you can’t take it with you,” he said.“We can’t affect the Australian economy too much, but we can affect our home economy – our character, our finances and they way we lead our kids and the example we show them.“This is the basis of our whole community and country. It always comes down to the family. Always.”

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