The man who never had a bad day

Remembering Bernie Weisman, an old-school druggist who always smiled

  • Bernie Weisman suffed a debilitating heart attack that left him unable to walk or talk.
Bernie Weisman suffed a debilitating heart attack that left… (Family photo )
January 12, 2013|Dan Rodricks

Ten years ago, a debilitating heart attack left Bernie Weisman unable to walk or talk, and yet the rabbi at his recent funeral said Bernie never had a bad day. With confidence the rabbi made that remark, having been assured by those closest to Bernie that the happy spirit he displayed for his first 55 years remained for the last 10.

Such a spirit is not easily disabled.

"At the end of his 65 years of life," Rabbi Dana Saroken of Beth El Congregation said at last month's funeral, "this is who Bernie was and who he always will be — a man who lit up the room wherever he was, a man who, despite any circumstances, never had a bad day, who smiled from morning until night; a man you could meet and within five minutes you would fall in love; the most generous and giving person who couldn't do enough for you, who never had an unkind word to say about anyone, who made time for everyone, and would even answer the phone lovingly — 'Hey doll!'

"An inspiring and admirable businessman, husband, father and friend. A fine man. A good man. A man who lived with integrity and old-school values, and who brought out the best in others and in humanity. A true mensch.

"In his lifetime, he was a legend and in his death, his legacy will burn brightly."

Bernie Weisman was chief pharmacist and owner of a North Baltimore drugstore that still has a lunch counter with stools. Charlesmead Pharmacy sells shakes and snowballs; you can get an egg salad sandwich there for $2.75. Once upon a time — within the past 15 years — you could get the Baltimore classic of coddies and a chocolate soda (made with syrup and seltzer at the counter) for $1.29.

Charlesmead, at Bellona and Gittings avenues, is an independent pharmacy in the Epic network, a throwback to the corner drugstore, and among the last of such places with fountain service.

The store was always "so Bernie," meaning very friendly and a little funky, with a lot of glad-to-see-ya and personal service. Bernie, wife Marilyn and their Charlesmead employees remembered names, and they liked to tape customers' baby pictures to the wood-paneled walls.

"To say that his business was and is a special place is an understatement," Rabbi Saroken said at the funeral. "Bernie created a place where everyone has a house account, a place where people could buy things even when they couldn't pay because Bernie knew that people can't always pay their whole bill. 'You gotta give 'em time,' he'd say. …

"Bernie created a place where people would go for advice, for guidance, a place where Bernie was there to listen patiently, a place where money mattered less than the person — so much so that, if a woman came in and needed expensive medicine and resisted buying it because of the cost, Bernie would insist: 'Take it. It's OK. I know you'll pay when you can.'

"At Bernie's place, they picked up prescriptions, filled them and delivered them without charge and, for his customers, even if they called in the middle of the night, Bernie never minded."

Bernie's wife took over for him after the heart attack. I dropped by at closing time the other night, and nothing much had changed. The cluttered store still has a little bit of everything displayed in three aisles and along the walls.

You can still get a slice of pizza or an ice cream. The deliveryman is still a cheerful fellow named George.

Holiday decorations were still up, and there was a photo of Bernie on the front door. He died Dec. 21. Until the end, customers were mailing him get-well cards.

"We gave him great care at home all these years, I wanted him to have that," Marilyn said. "He had a nurse during the day and a nurse's aide during the night — a brother and sister, Ruth Villaflores and her brother, Keith. They became like family."

Bernie and Marilyn had two sons, David and Brian, and a daughter, Shari.

They were blessed with grandchildren, too, but that was after Bernie's heart attack. Still, Marilyn said, the children visited their grandfather, and she could see in her husband's facial expressions the acknowledgment of the love around him.

"This was a man who smiled from the time he got up in the morning until he went to bed at night," Marilyn said.

Bernie Weisman was the man who never had a bad day.

"And so we say goodbye," Rabbi Saroken closed her eulogy. "And so we say today, 'Zacher tzadik livracha.' May his righteous memory always be your blessing, and may the beautiful memories and the love you shared always burn bright."

drodricks@baltsun.com

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