Whether Through Pharmacy, Art or Public Speaking, UM Alum Larry Wamble Finds Way to Connect with People

Larry Wamble

David D. Allen (right), dean of the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, thanks Larry Wamble for donating two of his prints, which hang in the background, to the school. Allen asked for the prints to decorate his office. UM Photo by Nathan Latil.

… Artist donates two prints to School of Pharmacy

OXFORD, Miss. – Larry Wamble and his wife were hopping from one nightspot to the next, sampling the music and visiting with acquaintances on a brisk November day in 1995. While huffing their way up the steep hill from the Gin to Proud Larry’s and the Oxford Square, she said, “Wouldn’t it be great if all our favorite nightspots were in one block? It would be ‘The perfect block.’”

The comment sparked Wamble, who has “always been able to draw things, even from the time someone put that first fat crayon in my hand,” to incorporate all those lively landmarks into a piece of art titled “The Perfect Block.”

Reflecting a sense of humor then resulting in more than 40 speaking engagements a year, Wamble printed beneath the line of popular storefronts a trademarked slogan he came up with to describe how he and his college buddies celebrated football weekends in Oxford: “We may not win every game, but we ain’t never lost a party.”Wamble asked a Memphis printer who did the flyers promoting his speaking business to make numerous copies of that “first Oxford print.” It sold well and was quickly followed by another, launching a third career for the former pharmacist, who graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy.

Since then, Wamble has created more than 30 different prints, many of which depict nightspots or landmarks of SEC and other cities such as New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Seattle, Boston and Philadelphia. To see them, visit http://www.larrywamble.com.

“I’m doing a lot of commissioned work now,” Wamble said.

One of his latest “cityscapes” was requested by Tyson Drug Co. owner Bob Lomenick of Holly Springs.

“I’ve been commissioned to do many large cities, but I also find it very special to do smaller ones,” Wamble said. “People from small cities seem to take more pride in their communities.”

Following Hurricane Katrina, he created a print of the lighthouse that stood on the beach in Biloxi to raise funds for relief efforts. Many sold for $1,200 a pop.

He also created several “pharmacy” prints to capture the essence of his “chosen” profession. He has donated two of them to the Ole Miss School of Pharmacy, where they hang in the newly remodeled office of Dean David D. Allen.

“I was honored he asked for them,” Wamble said.

“I could tell by his facial expression and body language that he was not just honored, he was extremely touched,” Allen said. “I’m the one who is honored to have his prints hanging in my office. Plus, it’s really fun to share their origins with visitors when they ask about them.”
As a youth growing up in Osceola, Ark., Wamble had a paper route, sacked groceries and spent hours after school working in a local drugstore. After attending Ole Miss, he returned to that same store to practice community pharmacy.

He served as president of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association in 1981-82, as well as numerous committees of the National Community Pharmacists Association. Awards recognizing his work followed: Arkansas Community Pharmacist of the Year in ’89 and APA’s Guy Newcomb Legislative Leadership Award in ’91.

The hats he wore gradually extended past the pharmacy field, as he added things like city councilman, police commissioner, justice of the peace, political action committee head, bank director, university advisory board member and “frustrated golfer” to his resume. Just for fun, he tacked on “master of ceremonies” to that list, taking the microphone whenever groups needed him.

The APA called in 1992 when it wanted someone to emcee a breakfast it was sponsoring at the NCPA convention in Seattle. There, Wamble delivered several of his folksy, down-home stories, laughing almost as long and hard as his audience members. Typical of the yarns he spun back then was one about Wendell and Claude Earl Stovall of Osceola.

“Wendell and Claude Earl, now, they don’t get out much. They did get over to Memphis for a weekend, though, and even stayed in the Peabody Hotel. The hotel clerk shoved the registration card across the desk for Claude Earl to sign. He took the pen, made an X and then circled it. The hotel clerk looked at it for a moment and said, ‘Pardon me, sir. We have a gentleman who comes here every now and then and signs his card with an X, but I have never seen a circled X before. What does that mean?’

Larry Wamble donated these two prints depicting nostalgic items associated with the practice of pharmacy to the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, where they hang in the newly remodeled office of Dean David D. Allen. UM Photo by Nathan Latil.

“Claude Earl leaned over and said, ‘You don’t understand, man. When I’m staying in a fancy hotel in a big city, I don’t ever use my real name.’”

After seeing the audience erupt in laughter many times as Wamble delivered his humorous country tales, the president of a state pharmacist association asked him for his business card.

“When I gave him my retail pharmacist’s card, the man said, ‘No, I want your speaker’s card,’” Wamble said. Six other state associations also asked him to be the keynote speaker at their state conventions.

Thinking “it would be a hoot to go on a couple of road trips,” Wamble accepted those invitations and, within a year, was speaking at more than 40 engagements annually.

That’s due, in part, to signing on with the Washington Speakers Bureau in Alexandria, Va., which was then looking for an “American humorist” to add to its list of personalities (i.e., former President Ronald Reagan, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) to promote as keynote speakers. A bureau representative called Wamble less than 24 hours after he left a videotape of one of his convention talks.

“I was the first ‘no-name speaker’ put in their book,” Wamble said, sporting a wide grin.

He left the pharmacy profession in late 1993 to pursue public speaking full time.

“Over the years, I’ve met CEOs of large corporations, stood at the top of an Olympic ski jump at Lake Placid and played the top 100 golf courses in the nation,” Wamble said. “I’ve spoken to audiences as small as 100 and as large as 5,000 in everything from intimate to coliseum-type venues.”

One of the most memorable was Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.

“My daddy worked for the National Life and Accident Insurance Co. for more than 40 years,” he said. “Its slogan was ‘We shield millions,’ which provided the call letters for the radio station it owned, WSM in Nashville. It also owned the Grand Ole Opry, so my father took me there several times.”

When Wamble finally found himself on the same stage once graced by the likes of Little Jimmy Dickens and Minnie Pearl, whom he saw as a child, he thought, “I sure hope that, somewhere, Berlin (his late father) and Bernice (his late mother) know what their baby boy is doing tonight.”

Today, Wamble accepts only 10 to 20 speaking engagements each year, and those are for “repeat customers” or at resorts that his wife, Connie, can visit with him.

“I don’t hustle them as much as I used to,” he said. “I like to be closer to home. There’s nothing lonelier than being sleepless in a motel room by yourself in a strange city at 3 a.m.”

Plus, he’s more content pursuing his art, and adding amusing stories to his repertoire.

While waiting to board a plane in Fargo, N.D., after completing research for one of his prints, he ran into Dick Clark, who was visiting his mother-in-law.

“A voice came over the P.A. system, telling us our plane was going to be four hours late,” Wamble said. “But about 15 minutes later, the guy came back on to tell us a plane was coming from Detroit to fly us out to make sure we made our connecting flights. I leaned over to Dick Clark and said, ‘I don’t think they’d pull a plane out of the sky for just me.’”

Although he has sold thousands of art prints, Wamble has never entered any of them in prize competitions. He says that’s because it’s impossible to choose from among the many he has created.

“A lot of time, thought and effort go into each one,” he said. “Each has its own individual personality and each one is special to me in its own way. They become like children, and picking a favorite would be akin to choosing a favorite child.”

Wamble, who made Oxford his permanent home in 2006, has touched thousands of people throughout his pharmacy, speaking and art careers.

“Being a community pharmacist is all about people,” he said. “You come to care about your patients. You rejoice with them when they have new babies, and you grieve with them when their loved ones aren’t doing well or pass away.”

In a sense, the same is true of public speaking.

“There is a message at the end of every speech, so I’ve touched a lot of people that way, too,” he said. “It’s rewarding when a room erupts in laughter. Audience response, and being on stage, is addictive.”

Just as heady, he says, was finding himself “one of the three guys representing the pharmacy profession” during a White House visit with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. He attributes the visit to having served as head of a political action committee while “Bill was governor of Arkansas.”

His cache of fond memories includes several from his days as an Ole Miss pharmacy student.

“During my first year, I was asked to come to the dean’s office,” he said. “I was scared to death and was wondering if I had done something wrong or was failing a class. But when I got there, Dean [Charlie] Hartman put that big, ole fat cigar he liked to smoke in an ashtray on his desk and asked, ‘How are you? Are you doing OK?’

“It blew me away that the man who was so busy putting our pharmacy school on the map took an interest in me and would ask if there was anything he could do to help. I’ve since learned that was just [what people were like at] Ole Miss, and what makes you fall in love with the place.”