Bowl of Hygeia Award
Pharmacist and Former Owner, Kornak and Hamm's Pharmacy
Williams Lake, B.C.
The 40 years serving the community of Williams Lake as employee then proprietor of Kornak and Hamm’s Pharmacy has taught Bowl of Hygeia Award recipient Cathie Hamm to expect the unexpected.
Recently retired in August this year, Hamm has touched the lives of many in the city, from local medical and veterinarian clinics, those who lived and served at seniors care centres, the decision-makers who run the city, to the generations who grew up visiting her pharmacy. She is a lifelong Williams Lake resident, only briefly leaving to attend university, before returning to her hometown to take over the family business in the 1990s.
“Williams Lake, historically, it’s ranch country,” Hamm said. “When you first come into town it comes across as a rough cow town or a mill town … but it’s also got this whole great vibe around it. It’s a mountain biker town. It’s a naturalist town. It’s a bird-eco friendly town. There’s a huge hippie population. The artistic community is incredible. There’s artists, potters, and weavers all over the countryside.”
In this community, it can be easy to make assumptions about appearances; people work in the bush or on ranches and can look rough and tough. But Hamm has long learned that those assumptions are often incorrect.
“Somebody who is a street person is an incredible artist,” Hamm began. “The guy with the dreads, he’s this mountain biker who’s out building trails that benefit the whole town.”
“I worked at the old folks home. There was this guy living there — this crochety old guy, who was out in his wheelchair across the street, there’s this whole bunch of young, what we would call punks hanging around. The guy fell out of his wheelchair. I saw it and thought, I need to go get help. But by the time I thought that, all these young men had gathered around him, and they picked him up, put him back in his wheelchair and made sure he got home safely.”
Recently retired in August this year, Cathie Hamm has touched the lives of many in the city, from local medical and veterinarian clinics, those who lived and served at seniors care centres, the decision-makers who run the city, to the generations who grew up visiting her pharmacy.
But seeing the community at their best can also result in bittersweet moments.
“I started working in the pharmacy when I was 15. I got to know people, and I got to know their kids, and all of a sudden, their grandkids are on birth control. How did all these kids grow up and become adults? That’s what really being a part of a community is. It’s watching and being part of the whole cycle,” Hamm said.
Often, a patient is regularly visiting Hamm’s pharmacy when they are at their worst, when they are struggling to manage health conditions. Sometimes, people don’t recover.
“The hardest part about pharmacy is you get to know and care for people, and sometimes it's their death journey. There’s a lot of loss. But you need to do what you're there for, you’re there to help them, to do the best you can for them.”
For herself, Hamm has found her own passion to be theatre. She has acted, directed and managed the logistics of putting on live theatre at the Williams Lake Studio Theatre for the past 15 years. It’s become Hamm’s own creative outlet, as painting was for her mother, also a pharmacist, who owned the pharmacy before her. In her retirement, Hamm plans to start painting as well, and continue enjoying more of the adventures, like mountain biking, that Williams Lake has to offer.
“It's really come home to me, because the hardest day of a play is actually takedown day, when you deconstruct the set and clean up. All of a sudden, everything's gone, and you're so relieved because you're exhausted and you need a break, but you also have to deal with the loss.” she said. “We've worked so hard for this, built something great, and then it’s done. But it's the complete cycle. A new play will come.”