A hundred years after Sgt. Tommy Ricketts was presented with the prestigious Victoria Cross for valour during the First World War by King George V, the teenage soldier from White Bay is being recognized by a university pharmacy group with a special award in his name that not only honours his admirable actions during the war, but after as well.
Memorial University of Newfoundland’s (MUN) school of pharmacy will launch the Tommy Ricketts Award in pharmacy education Thursday night at the Health Sciences Centre’s main auditorium during a white-coat ceremony to welcome the school’s new students.
“The story of Tommy Ricketts is pretty inspiring,” said Dr. Shawn Bugden, dean of the school of pharmacy.
Bugden — who was born in Manitoba, but has family roots in this province — came up with the idea of naming the award for Ricketts last spring, shortly after his appointment as dean and after a visit to The Rooms. Among the displays commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, the one featuring Ricketts caught Bugden’s eye.
“The Tommy Ricketts story is fairly well known here in Newfoundland, but the part that I glommed on to is when he came back from the war, he became a pharmacist,” Bugden said.
“So really, that was the thread I pulled on when we started to think about pulling together the award.”
Ricketts — whose bravery in the face of an enemy onslaught near a small Belgium village saved the Royal Newfoundland Regiment from heavy casualties on Oct. 14, 1918 — graduated in the first class of Memorial University College in 1925.
He then apprenticed as a pharmacist for T. McMurdo & Co. and settled into a life of dedicated service as a pharmacy owner from 1934 until his death in 1967.
Ricketts is said to have died on the job — in his store.
“He came from a small community in Newfoundland, couldn’t sign his name, but came back with all the notoriety of the Victoria Cross, used some of that leverage, got himself into school and started at square one and pulled himself, essentially, up by his boot straps to get an education, train as a pharmacist and became a community pharmacist for a long time,” Bugden said.
“That’s the part of the story that we got excited about — someone who had the tenacity to change their life through education and initiative, to come from a rural community and change his life after the war.”
The Tommy Ricketts Award will be presented annually to a student who has achieved a high academic standard in the school’s doctor of pharmacy program, or PharmD, and is participating in experiential learning in various parts of the province and abroad.
Bugden said it honours dedication and life-long learning, and he hopes Ricketts’ story will inspire students.
“Tommy Ricketts got his Victoria Cross on Jan. 19, 1919 — almost to the day, 100 years (ago), so that makes it interesting and fun,” Bugden said.
“And hopefully that will resonate with people as they think about the award.”
Premier Dwight Ball is expected to attend Thursday’s ceremony, along with Gary Kachanoski, MUN’s president and vice-chancellor.