By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN – He was a “Pill-er of the Community,” one of several slogans Dr. Charles A. Champion used to promote Champion’s Pharmacy & Herb Store in the Whitehaven community.
A longtime independent pharmacist, Dr. Champion was widely known for dispensing both traditional drugs and herbal remedies. He’d spent more than 40 years building a loyal customer base.
On Jan. 21, Dr. Champion died, bringing an end to a total of 65 years in pharmacy. He was 92.
The family expressed the loss of Dr. Champion in a statement to the media that underscores his “incredible life and legacy.”
“Dr. Champion spent his career creating and providing remedies to treat many common illnesses,” the statement reads. “His dedication and love for people and his community were evident in his work.
“The joy Dr. Champion found in serving others was immeasurable, and we are grateful to everyone who trusted him and Champion’s Pharmacy & Herb Store with their health and wellness needs.”
The statement concludes with an appeal for the community to continue to carry Dr. Champion “in your hearts and continue to ‘Live Like A Champion,’” a recent slogan heralded by the family.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland tweeted his condolences to Dr. Champion’s family. “I was saddened to hear about the death of Dr. Charles Champion. He was a true champion.”
Strickland presented Dr. Champion with the key to the city in 2019.
Dr. Willie W. Herenton, the former mayor of Memphis, spoke highly of Dr. Champion, calling him a trailblazer in his profession of pharmacy in Tennessee and throughout the nation.
“We have loss a trailblazer…” he said. “He was loved and respected by many. He and I had a great friendship over the years. I had great admiration and respect for Dr. Champion.”
Herenton shared fond memories of meeting Dr. Champion for the first time after speaking with a neighbor in the early years.
“I vividly remember my neighbor saying, ‘There’s a Black man that’s a doctor with a white coat on down in the shopping center,’” he recalls. “This was at Katz Drug Store (which first opened in Memphis in 1954).”
Herenton said he walked down to the drugstore to see for himself. “I’d never seen a Black man behind a drugstore [sic] with a white coat on. That’s when I first met Champion,” he said.
Dr. Champion worked 12 years at Katz Drug Store. He was the first African-American pharmacist hired by the chain in the city. Before then, he’d worked 12 years in pharmacy at the former John Gaston Hospital in Memphis.
Before his foray into pharmacy, Dr. Champion matriculated at Xavier University College of Pharmacy in New Orleans and graduated in 1955. He also spent two years in Germany in the United States Army as a pharmacist.
Dr. Champion and his wife, the former Carolyn Bailey, whom he married in 1958, first opened Champion’s Pharmacy & Herb Store in 1981 at 1925 Third Street and moved 10 years later to their current location at 2369 Elvis Presley Blvd.
Mrs. Champion served as the pharmacy’s business manager.
In 2021, when Dr. Champion was 90, he spoke candidly to The Tennessee Tribune about his life and legacy. He was semi-retired then. His daughters – Dr. Carol “Cookie” Champion and Dr. Charita Champion Brookins, both pharmacists – were running the day-to-day operation.
“It’s a godsend situation,” Dr. Champion told The Tribune. “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.”
Dr. Carol Champion had said she hopes to expand what her father had built. “I want to expand our territory and be able to grow the online sales,” she had said in 2021, “and possibly open a west Tennessee location within two to three years.”
Right now, the family is grieving the loss of the trailblazing founder of Champion’s Pharmacy & Herb Store, Dr. Charles A. Champion.
Funeral arrangements: A wake for Dr. Charles A. Champion is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 29, from 2 p.m.-6 p.m. at Mt. Olive Cathedral CME Church, 538 Dr. MLK Jr. Ave., Memphis, TN 38126. The funeral is Monday at noon, Jan. 30, also at the church.