After 20 years, Diné female pharmacist retires

By Anne Griffis
Special to the Times

TUBA CITY, March 23, 2012

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(Courtesy photo)

ABOVE: The family of Nonita Adair join her for her retirement celebration including, standing, left to right, Bryan ketchum, Alexis Scott, Sacha Scott, Allen Tallman, Arianni Tallman, Lena Webster, Amorelle Adair, Nonita Adair, Amber Adair, Unis Walker and Jaden Adair; and, kneeling, from left, Phyllis Begay, Tristan Nez, Stacee Walker, Amanda Adair and Kimberlee Masayesva.

One day in 1986, Nonita Adair, a pharmacy technician, was mixing intravenous fluids in a back room by herself when she got fed up with her job of 12 years and decided it was time for a change.

"There were a hundred IVs to mix," she said. "Bottles were all over the counter. I wanted to throw them on the floor!


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"I was practically doing the job of the pharmacists, mixing antibiotics, filling all the prescriptions, pre-packing medication for use by patients in the wards of the hospital," she said. "The pharmacists just checked my work, yet they earned triple what I was making. I wanted to be a pharmacist."

Her ambition would result in her becoming the first Navajo woman to receive a doctorate in pharmacy in the state of Arizona.

Adair had already completed most of her pre-pharmacy course requirements at Navajo Community College, now called Diné College. The 32-year-old mother of three daughters waited until the youngest was out of diapers before leaving her home in Tuba City to pursue her career goals.

"My mom and sisters encouraged me to go back to school," said Adair, who is Tó'áhaní (Edgewater Clan), born for Kiyaa'áanii (Towering House Clan).

She was the first member of her family to go to college.

The recipient of a full scholarship from the Indian Health Service, Adair received a great deal of support from her employer, the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation.

"The pharmacists knew I was smart," she said. "They told me to go back to school."

The scholarship came with the condition that Adair, upon graduation, would return and work for TCRHCC for a minimum of two years.

As it turned out, Adair returned and has stayed for 20 years. She finished her last day of work on Feb. 29.

Her early retirement was spurred by a health condition that has affected her memory and her ability to endure long hours of work.

"I would work another 20 years if I could," said Adair.

In 1986, Adair went to Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. The college was a natural choice for resuming her education because it was where she had met her husband, Greg Adair, in 1972.

She moved with her husband and three daughters - Amorelle, 11, Amber, 9, and Amanda, 5.

Then she heard about the new pharmacy program at the University of Arizona in Tucson and made the difficult choice to move again, this time without her husband, whose job prevented his moving.

Adair's sister, Bertha Tomlinson, went to Tucson to help the family and later decided to attend college just like her sister, earning several degrees, and continues to live in Tucson.

During the four years when Adair was pursuing her doctorate, her youngest daughter, Amanda, recalls not seeing her mom who was in her closet studying. She literally enclosed herself in a walk-in closet to gain the privacy and quiet she needed to focus on her studies.

"It was hard," Adair said. "I was good in math, but not good in science classes, especially chemistry reactions."

After a year, her husband re-joined the family in Tucson. He eventually worked security at the University of Arizona.

"He was my number one supporter," said Adair of her late husband, who later worked as a criminal investigator with the Navajo Nation for 28 years and a deputy sheriff for Mojave County.

"He got me up at 6 o'clock in the morning to study some more," she said. "One time, I wanted to quit. I was tired, and couldn't study anymore. And I was tired of being poor."

Adair's IHS scholarship did not cover living expenses, and the family struggled financially.

The family also struggled to adapt to mainstream culture.

Amanda recalls, "I didn't know why mom went to school, and was doing all that work in the closet, and why she took us off the rez."

Amanda, born for Scottish-Irish and German, was subjected to prejudice.

"Kids called me names for being Native American," she said. "Girls picked on me and wouldn't be my friend. They wouldn't invite me to their houses to play."

Ironically, when the family returned to Tuba City, Amanda faced prejudice for being "white." This lasted until the kids learned who her Navajo relatives were then they became good, loyal friends.

As anticipated, TCRHCC hired Adair right after she graduated in 1992. While she'd been attending school, Adair had take out a loan to supplement her IHS scholarship. She gratefully notes that hospital paid that loan off for her.

Now in her first month of retirement, Adair is learning to accommodate her disability and continuing to enjoy life. She devotes time to her daughters and seven grandsons.

She's also planning to visit Ireland, a place her husband always wanted to go.

She is also pleased to act as a role model for Navajo women.

Lessina Dele, who was a classmate of Amanda's at Tuba City High, was inspired by the example set by Adair.

"She was a teenage mom who looked up to my mother," Amanda said. "I said, 'If my mom can do it, you can, too. Dr. Dele sounds good.'"

Dele went to school on an IHS scholarship, became a pharmacist and now has a successful career in Phoenix.