FORT MYERS, Fla. - Michael James Rossi Jr., the founder of Phred's Drug in Cranston, R.I., died Saturday, Dec. 2nd at the age of 94. He was a devoted father, and the husband of Marie Rachel (Haronian) Rossi for 71 years.
Born in Providence two days before Christmas, Mr. Rossi was the son of the late Michael James Rossi and Florence Turrill Ormsby. He graduated from LaSalle Academy in 1946, then served in the U.S. Navy until 1948, before receiving an undergraduate degree from the Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science in 1952, one month before his marriage. He received his pharmacy degree from the University of Kansas in 1958, after the birth of his first three children.
His first drug store was a small operation called Fernwood Drug, located on East Street near the family home. It was during an era when small, independent pharmacies were common and before major pharmacy chains began dominating the medicine-dispensing business. It meant long hours and little rest for Mr. Rossi, but he generated a loyal clientele, many of whom benefited from his generosity.
He eventually moved to a storefront on Oaklawn Avenue, near the site of what was then Auction City, near the Warwick line. Later, when Mr. Rossi was planning his own building across the street, which now houses a Dunkin Donuts, Mrs. Rossi came up with the character of Phred the pharmacist, with its odd spelling of Fred. A customer created a stick figure -- complete with Mr. Rossi's signature goatee -- to illustrate the character. Advertisements for the drug store would feature Phred offering various words of wisdom, in addition to announcing the weekly specials.
People would often come into the store claiming to know Phred personally, not realizing the origins of the name. Mr. Rossi loved it.
Three of his four sons and his youngest daughter gradually took over a larger share of the business, which at one point, expanded to three stores, all in Cranston. The Oaklawn store ultimately expanded again, taking over the Auction City site, which was its home until Phred's, now owned and operated by his second son, was bought out by CVS.
Phred's thrived because it offered personal service, avoiding the depersonalization and long wait times that became the hallmark of the major chains. When you called the store when it was open, you were never greeted by a recording. Someone in the pharmacy always answered.
Mr. Rossi prided himself as being a bit of a Renaissance Man, always willing to opine on politics, philosophy, religion and a host of other topics. He loved his children deeply. He enjoyed his Jack Daniels, a fine wine, playing a good round of golf, doing his crossword puzzles in ink and his wife's cooking.
Throughout his time in Cranston, family life was highlighted by Sunday's pasta dinner, with visits from friends, relatives, spouses, prospective spouses, and grandchildren.
After he retired to a modest condominium in Fort Myers in 1995, Mr. Rossi developed a talent for playing the stock market, spending endless hours on his iPad pouring over financial data, looking for trends that others were missing. His happiest days were the ones when the market was open.
Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Michelle Marie Emery and Francesca Ann DiMaio, both of Cranston; three sons, John Michael Rossi and Charles Lay Rossi, both of Fort Myers, and James Joseph Rossi of Narragansett; 12 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. His third son, Michael Francis Rossi, died in 2005. His sister, Bernice Florence Prost, died in 2015.
A memorial service is being planned for a later date.