By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN — Dr. Charles A. Champion is not shy about praising God for longevity and the path he took that led him to become the quintessential pharmacist and herbalist in Memphis and Shelby County.
He’s 90 years old, married 64 years to Carolyn Bailey Champion, and has two daughters – Dr. Carol “Cookie” Champion and Dr. Charita Champion Brookins, both pharmacists, holding down Champion’s Pharmacy and Herb Store since their father is semi-retired.
His grandchildren – Charles Edwin Champion, a chemist; Jessica Champion, a financial adviser; and Rikki Brookins, an assistant – are integral to the business as well. They’re a cohesive family intent on keeping the business relevant that their grandfather started Jan. 5, 1981, at 1925 Third Street before moving 10 years later to their current location at 2369 Elvis Presley Blvd.
“It’s a godsend situation,” Dr. Champion said. “After we lost our daughter Chandra (in 2014), who was a certified pharmacy technician, she’d produced two children who are able to help us from a financial standpoint and from a scientific standpoint.”
When asked the secret to his longevity, he said unapologetically, “Live like a champion,” a slogan that was culled from a recent honor he received at Xavier University College of Pharmacy in New Orleans, his alma mater.
He explained it this way: “I have to live in accordance with good health principles. As I counsel people daily, I must be able to convey to them good health practices. From that, I receive longevity… So, what I’m saying is I cannot sit here and tell the customers, or patients, one thing, then do another.”
To say that Dr. Champion is thankful for life is an understatement. It is just as much a foregone conclusion that his hard work has produced results and a legacy that his children and grandchildren are taking to the next level.
“You don’t want me to start shouting,” he said at the onset of a split-second emotional outburst during an interview. Like pop-ups on the World Wide Web, Dr. Champion will let loose a praise when you least expect it.
It is his faith that propels him – he’s a longtime member of Mt. Olive CME Church – along with his willingness to stay the course despite the difficulties that often arise after small Black businesses move from concept to brick and mortar.
“If it hadn’t been for the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church,” Dr. Champion said, “and the local church in Greenfield, Tenn. (his hometown) that guided me and kept me, and wounding up at a Catholic university, I wouldn’t be here.”
But he is here, to say the least, and making a difference in the lives of a many local and online customers looking for herbal remedies for simple ailments or looking for “the Pill-er of the Community” – one of his slogans – to fill their doctor’s prescription.
The majority of Dr. Champion’s customers are Black and come from varied socio-economic backgrounds. White walk-in customers comprise less than five percent of sales; however, 30 percent of them shop online.
“I’m seeing people 50 and 60 years old that I waited on a number of years ago,” he said. “Then their family is telling other families. So I have served three or four generations.”
Dr. Carol Champion is hoping to expand what her father has built. “I want to expand our territory and be able to grow the online sales,” she said, “and possibly open a west Tennessee location within two to three years.”
A mobile unit was deployed a year ago in August. “Now we are able to go into the small towns,” she said, adding: “I’m trying to do what I can do to keep things going from what he’s built.”
Dr. Champion’s daughters are running the day-to-day operation and “making decisions, ordering, and everything that is needed. I’m only called in for advice,” he said. “My role now is…I would say…I’m semi-retired due to my age and do the fact of my eyesight.”
He is visually impaired, but perseveres, nevertheless. “But my mind, as far as I’m concerned, is still active,” he said. “I’m still active in the business. It’s just that I’m not physically involved now.”
Here’s what he says about his legacy and leaving behind a blueprint for success that his children and grandchildren can follow: “It’s important for the children to be aware of the fact that you need to stay one step ahead. You have to have vision. So, it’s important for me to try to instill that in them.”
The bottom line? He’s trying to get them ready to step up to the plate.
For more information about Champion’s Pharmacy and Herb Store, contact Dr. Carol “Cookie” Champion at (901) 948-6622 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website address is www.championsherbstore.com.