The Liberty Story: A History Spanning Four Generations
More than a century ago, two brothers with a passion for medicine and giving back to their community laid the foundation for what would become Liberty Health.
In the late 1860s, John and Ben McNeill studied and graduated from Edenborough Medical College in Raeford, one of the first medical schools in North Carolina. They set up a practice in Hope Mills and began studying pharmaceuticals so they could better serve their patients. By 1875, they began compounding and dispensing their own medicine.
In 1886, John and Ben moved their practice and their families to Shallotte. Ben pursued an interest in politics and became a member of the North Carolina General Assembly House of Representatives. He served three terms before passing away at the age of 55 from a heart attack on the floor of the General Assembly. A newspaper article in 1901 announcing his passing wrote, “He was a physician of high standing, and his life was full of good deeds. He was a true friend to the poor and suffering, and will be sorely missed in his county. He was a man of large information and wide influence among his people, retaining their confidence to a flattering degree.”
Following his brother’s death at the turn of the century, John saw the potential to grow the family business and purchased a medical practice in Whiteville. However, the move did not go quite as planned. The schooner transporting his pharmacy equipment, personal belongings and medical diplomas sank during a storm in Lockwood Folly.
He persevered and successfully set up shop in Whiteville, even expanding his practice by building a pharmacy for his son, George, to run next door. Little did George know, J.A. McNeill and Son Pharmacy would become North Carolina’s oldest family-owned pharmacy.
George married Lyda Russell and they had four children: Beulah, John (Johnny), Charles, and Hector. Ahead of her time, Lyda graduated from Smithdale College in Richmond, Virginia with a business degree. After marrying George, she began keeping books for the drug store — a job she enjoyed until the age of 90. She told a newspaper, “I’ve enjoyed my business life, and it seems to agree with me.”
George and Lyda’s son, Johnny, carried on the family tradition and graduated with a pharmacy degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1940. He delayed his pharmacy career to serve as a line officer in the U. S. Navy in the South Pacific during World War II. Upon his safe return from the war, Johnny took over J. A. McNeill and Son Pharmacy.
Johnny married Margaret Powell and they had six children: John Jr. (Sandy), Ronald (Ronnie), George, Mary, Jim and Jane. Like their father, Sandy and Mary earned pharmacy degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and returned to Whiteville to work at the pharmacy. In 1981, Johnny proudly changed the business name to J. A. McNeill Sons and Daughter Pharmacy. From a young age, the six children had a hand in the daily operation of the pharmacy. They saw first-hand the importance of quality care and how it enhanced the lives of the families that walked through the pharmacy doors. It was that kind of care that inspired them to continue to pursue careers in healthcare and expand care beyond just the Whiteville pharmacy.
Sandy eventually started his own pharmacies and teamed up with his brother, Ronnie, to pursue ventures in medical supply equipment. Together, they built up the Medicare Supply Company from a relatively small operation with one location to a multimillion-dollar business with 16 locations. They sold the company to the Avon Corporation in 1986.
In 1989, they purchased Pharmaceutical Product Development, Inc., commonly referred to as PPD, when it had just 12 employees. Today PPD is a global contract research organization with 30,000 professionals worldwide. Their involvement with PPD ended in 2011 when the Carlyle Group acquired the company.
The McNeills then turned their focus to expanding resources for older adults throughout North Carolina. They named their new company Liberty Health in dedication to their father’s Naval service in WWII and his love of the word ‘liberty.’ The McNeills purchased their first nursing home in 1990 and have worked tirelessly ever since to meet the needs of the communities they serve. Over the last three decades, Liberty Health has grown from a single nursing home to being a fully integrated post-acute healthcare provider, incorporating a family of companies that provide a full spectrum of care and residential opportunities for older adults.
Today, Liberty Health owns, operates or manages 39 skilled nursing communities, 10 assisted/independent living communities, eight Continuing Care Retirement Communities, a home health, palliative and hospice care company with 31 locations, two pharmacies, a medical equipment and IV therapy company and an HMO I-SNP and HMO C-SNP health plan company. Liberty’s family of companies spans North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida and Louisiana. This comprehensive approach to senior care gives patients, residents and their loved ones the peace of mind knowing that Liberty Health understands and can support their needs and lifestyle choices as they age.
Sandy, Ronnie, George, Mary, Jim and Jane, along with their spouses and children, have worked in the family business and contributed greatly to its success and longevity. Through their steadfast dedication to family, community and offering comprehensive healthcare services, the McNeill family has not lost sight of the traditions started nearly 150 years ago.