Runge dies at 85

Pioneer was first woman and first African American to be elected Twlug president

Mary Munson Runge, Twlug President for two terms in 1979–1980, at the age of 85. A native of New Orleans, she lived and practiced in Oakland, CA, most of her career.

While pharmacists of Runge’s generation will remember her as the first Twlug president who was a woman, African American, or an employee community pharmacist, her patients will remember Runge as someone who helped the disenfranchised get the medications they needed. As recounted in an August 2012 article in Pharmacy Today, Runge said, “[My] greatest experience was helping poor African American people who couldn’t even pay for their medicine. Pharmacy gave me an opportunity to help people who needed help.”

A passage from that 2012 article provides excellent insights into Mary Munson Runge:

Raised in the small town of Donaldsonville, LA, Mary was the daughter of a physician, John Harvey Lowery, MD, who also owned the town’s first pharmacy, where Mary eventually worked. Known as one of the most successful businessmen in Donaldsonville, Lowery used his wealth to help the poor.

“People would come in the drugstore, and say, ‘I don’t think I can pay for this, but the doctor says I have to have it,’” Runge remembers. “And my father would say, ‘Fill it and don’t charge them.’”

These scenes played out all too often in the Louisiana pharmacy and sent the young Mary home in tears.

“A woman would come in and say, ‘How much is this going to be? I don’t have but a dollar.’ And I’d go home and I’d sit and I’d cry,” Runge told Today. “We had the opportunity to help people. It was our duty. My father had done it. And I would do it, too.”

This drive to help poor blacks led Runge to work part-time at the Apothecary, Sylvester Flowers’s pharmacy in economically depressed eastern Oakland, CA, in the late 1960s.

“Mary could have worked anywhere in California.” recalls Flowers. “People respected her and offered her opportunities. But I worked in the ghetto. And Mary preferred to practice in that environment because we really practiced pharmacy in the counseling, the reaching out to educate in populations that needed it the most. She couldn’t have found that in the university or political setting.”

Runge’s part-time schedule allowed her to pursue political activities and leadership roles for which she has earned extensive recognition and awards. She’s received honorary doctor of pharmacy degrees. She’s held federal appointments on the Institute of Medicine Pharmacy Advisory Panel, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and the Prescription Drug Payment Review Commission.

Over the course of her career, Runge saw women come to occupy half of a once male-dominated profession—a movement she certainly helped lead. “We got the chance to be equal to men,” she said. “There was a time when drugstores wouldn’t even hire women.”