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Staff Profile: Hubert Shiu

A Spoonful of "Shiugar" Helps the Medicine Go Down

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
posted September 16, 1998

Hubert Shiu quietly clicks the keys of his computer surrounded by walls lined with neatly stacked pill bottles. Everything in the room is white, including the counters, the walls and the coats worn by the staff. Shiu hands his assistant a brown glass bottle, which she takes to the front of the room. When she slides open the glass window to confer with a client, the distinct smell of disinfectant wafts into the waiting room.

The campus pharmacy has been home to Shiu (pronounced "shoe"), Berkeley's chief pharmacist, for nearly 40 years. From this vantage point, he has witnessed four decades of change on campus.

During the early 1960s, Shiu treated free speech protesters who had been doused with pepper spray and mace. As the hippie culture evolved, he treated students who overdosed on psychedelic drugs, codeine and heroin. In the 1980s, Shiu witnessed the boom in health education and rapid advances in pharmaceutical technology, a trend that continues into the '90s.

"I see myself as a spectator looking at a stage with the scenes changing as each decade passes," said Shiu of his tenure.

The curtain closes for Shiu on Sept. 30 when, after 37 years in the pharmacy, he retires.

"I just got my Medicare card in the mail yesterday, so it must be time," Shiu chuckled.

Shiu began his Berkeley career in 1961 at Cowell Hospital -- at that time a full-service hospital, complete with surgical suite, located on the east side of the campus.

It was a simpler era, recalls Shiu, when only basic medications were available and dispensed free of charge to Berkeley students.

"We use to make our own cough syrup, calamine lotion and ointments using a mortar and pestle," said Shiu, whose energy and enthusiasm belie his 65 years. "It was a real art form to make the medications both elegant and usable."

All that ended during the 1970s when a severe budget crunch forced the campus to cut its student health services. Cowell became an outpatient clinic and students began paying for their prescriptions. To save money, Shiu ordered pre-mixed medicines instead of making them himself.

Cowell Hospital was demolished in 1993 -- the Haas Business School now stands in its place -- and the pharmacy moved to its new home at Tang Center.

Today, the medications Shiu dispenses, such as antibiotics, anti-allergy drugs, anti-depressants and oral contraceptives, reflect the times as well as an increase in student awareness.

"Students these days are intelligent, well-informed and want the latest drugs on the market," said Shiu of the 35,000 clients that visit the pharmacy each year.

When Shiu was a college student, he wanted to major in engineering. But after World War II, engineers were "a dime a dozen," he said.

An interest in chemistry and science led him toward pharmacy school. The fact that his father was a self-taught herbalist also affected his decision.

"I remember drinking my father's concoctions as a boy and hating their foul smell and taste," said Shiu. "Taking pills seemed a much better way of getting healthy."

He finished his undergraduate degree in 1956 and his doctoral degree in 1961, both from UC San Francisco.

Since then, Shiu has built a reputation at Berkeley as a caring, understanding pharmacist and a wonderful boss.

"He has taught me many things throughout my time here," said Zain Morin, staff pharmacist. "His personality and sense of humor always make for an enjoyable work environment."

"I feel blessed to have trained under his supervision," said LaVon Hightower, a pharmacy technician who has worked for Shiu for 10 years. "We are like family in the pharmacy and I will miss him dearly."

After retirement, Shiu plans to trade in his white coat and pills for work boots and a hammer as a volunteer for Habitats for Humanity, an organization that builds homes for low-income families.


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