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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 March 2015
14 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 MARCH 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Dr Varigos: carer across the generations Andrew Varigos turned 100 last week. Neos Kosmos pays tribute to the former Melbourne GP and pioneering pharmacist MICHAEL SWEET The man who cared for generations of Melburnians of Greek heritage turned 100 last week - a milestone that provides an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the remarkable Dr Andrew Varigos. The days may be long gone since queues would form in the early morning light on Victoria Parade for an appointment with the GP who spoke his patients' mother tongue, but the chapter Dr Varigos wrote in the story of Greek migration to Australia will always be remembered. Andrew Varigos was born in South Melbourne on 5 March 1915. On that date Gallipoli was not a word familiar to Australians. Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance and the Australian War Memorial were yet to be built, and the country’s population was less than five million. One of seven children, Andrew's parents John Varvarigos and Giannoula Lekatsas migrated from Ithaca in 1914. As an infant he grew up in their modest Park Street home near St Kilda Road, before the family moved to Bourke Street in 1920, where his father - a boot-maker by trade - ran a cafe and shop. From an early age his parents instilled in their son - like his siblings - the importance of learning, equipping him with the tools to prosper in their adopted country. His father emphasised the importance of Latin in his studies, and for the only boy of Greek heritage at Melbourne High School, the use of Greek at home was strictly encouraged. As a teenager Andrew witnessed the effects of the Great Depression and with widespread unemployment his mother took in boarders to make ends meet. Most were newly arrived migrants from Greece, and more often than not, if they had no money, the room was theirs for free. One young lodger, Jim from Cephalonia, gained employment at the Victoria Market and soon - outside of school hours - Andrew had his first job. At 15, offered the princely sum of two pounds a week, Andrew leaped at the chance of regular earnings and left school. Respite from the long hours and early morning starts came on Saturdays, when Andrew would knock off in time to get to see his beloved South Melbourne football team play in Albert Park. After working in the market Andrew joined his uncle in a new venture, a dry cleaning business in Brunswick. The years passed and by the age of 22 he was restless. In his breaks from the steam press he'd frequent the old Helios cafe opposite the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and it was here that a friend in the medical profession - a young nurse called Joyce Watts - suggested a new career path - pharmacy. And so it began. Apprenticed to Harlem and Harlem Chemists, Andrew began his four years of pharmacy studies at Pharmacy College in Melbourne, all the while assisting on the counter of the Flinders Street chemist. By 26 he had passed his pharmacy exams with flying colours, achieving some of the highest results ever achieved - obtaining both intermediate and final gold medals; a feat only two other students have achieved (one being Sir Weary Dunlop, who also went on to study medicine). It was 1941 and Andrew Varigos began his pharmacy career. Two years later he married Chrissie Karpouzis, ten years his junior. The war years would see Andrew work briefly in Box Hill before opening his first pharmacy business of his own in Camberwell. By the end of 1946 Chrissie and Andrew had been blessed by two sons - John and George. In the late 1940s he opened the first Andrews Drug Store in Elizabeth Street, adding a second store under the same name in Collins Street soon after. Comprising dispensing counters, a soda bar, cosmetics, perfumery section and camera shop, the elegant stores - designed in the latest American retail architectural style - were a revolutionary concept for the time, and they thrived. But Andrew wanted to move forward. Despite more than a decade of success as a high street pharmacist, he yearned for a deeper connection to healing and healthcare. At the age of 40 (and now a father of three, with daughter Euhana's birth in 1952), he enrolled to study medicine at the University of Melbourne and six years later gained his MBBS degree. He completed his residency at Box Hill Hospital before opening The young Andrew. Varigos generations: Surrounded by his children and grandchildren, Andrew holds hands with daughter Euahna and wife Chrissie during last week’s celebration. Andrew’s parents John and Giannoula migrated from Ithaca to Australia in 1914.
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