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'Live like a Champion': Memphis' first Black pharmacist recalls legacy

Dr. Charles Champion has been serving Memphians since 1957.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The University of Memphis' Black Student Union will honor a pioneer on Tuesday night.

Dr. Charles Champion will receive the Arthur S. Holmon Lifetime Achievement Award for over 60 years of service to Memphians. Champion has been breaking barriers since he became a pharmacist in the 1950s.

For over 40 years, Champion’s Pharmacy and Herb Store has served Memphians, but Dr. Champion’s legacy runs much deeper beginning in 1957. There’s a good chance he’s served one of your elders. 

He recalled a story where he asked a customer his age and they said they were 57 years old.

“I said ‘man, I probably gave your mother the calcium and the iron pill before you were born,” Champion said.

Champion graduated from Xavier University and was drafted into the United States Army where he worked as an Army pharmacist in Germany. When he returned home in 1957, he started working at John Gaston Hospital — now known as Regional One Health. He was the first black pharmacist to work at a hospital in Memphis.

After 12 years there, he was hired at Katz Drug Store where he was also the first black pharmacist to work in a chain drug store in Memphis. History that at first, was lost to him.

"I’m a person who likes to connect the dots, to like to look back. To be honest and truthful with you, I didn’t even realize it," Champion said.

In 1981, he opened Champion Pharmacy and Herb Store and 10 years later, moved their store to the current location on Elvis Presley Boulevard. His family has served Memphis ever since, initially filling prescriptions and making their own salves, ointments, and oils and living by the mantra: Live Like a Champion.

"Since Jan. 5, 1981, the train is still running," Champion said. "I have worked hard to send out good signals to the community."

Now over 90 years old, Champion's sight has declined, but he still comes into work to greet customers. His daughters, Drs. Carol and Charita Champion, have taken over the store. They try to live out the values their father has taught them.

"One of the most influential that I think I've learned from him is compassion, to listen, to listen to your patients. To not just judge what you think you see. Always have an open heart," said Carol Champion.

Besides his daughters, he's always looking to inspire the next young pharmacist. He believes he’s inspired at least 10 other people from his church alone to venture into pharmacy.

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