MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis history wouldn’t be complete without a mention of man whose name has become synonymous with wellness.
Just say the words “Doctor Champion” and folks in town will know exactly who you mean.
For almost 40 years, the renowned Dr. Charles Champion has filled prescriptions for generations of families at his pharmacy and herb store in South Memphis.
It’s rare to find a small business that is still around after that long, but prescriptions are still being filled at Champion Pharmacy in South Memphis.
The business and its founder are still going strong, and on any given day you are likely to see Dr. Champion greeting customers and making sure everything is OK.
“I come to work every day,” Champion said.
At 89 years old, Champion has lost his vision and has cut back on much of his work load, but the work he has done over the years still speaks volumes.
This native Memphian left Tennessee in the 1950s to attend pharmacy school in New Orleans.
When he came back to Memphis after a tour in the U.S. Army, he became one of the first African American pharmacist to work in a Memphis hospital, at John Gaston Hospital.
Later, he was one of the first African American pharmacists hired by a chain store in Memphis.
But Dr. Champion always saw bigger things. In 1981 he decided to go out on his own and open Champion’s pharmacy on Third Street and Mallory Avenue in South Memphis.
Money was tight, but he said the Tennessee Valley Authority loaned him $40,000 to go into business.
He quickly became a staple for people looking for herbs and healing.
“Well, you have a community here in what we call the southwest part of Memphis called Boxtown. Had no physicians, no dentist there. So a lot of people, they’re dependent on herbal medicine,” Champion explained. “I started to refresh myself about the different herbs, and I start putting the herbs on the counter.”
When he moved his business to Elvis Presley Boulevard, he opened an herb store right inside the pharmacy.
And for almost 40 years, generations of customers have come through his doors in search of that Dr. Champion touch.
“I just had a recent case, one lady had fibroid tumors. She had fibroid tumors and she was bleeding. So she needed something to stop the bleeding,” Champion said. “And so there’s an herb over there called Shepherd’s Purse, and we fix up the Shepherd’s Purse.
Today a generation of Champions have picked up the calling. His daughter, Dr. Carol “Cookie” Champion, is also a pharmacist and now runs the day-to-day operations at the pharmacy. His wife of 62 years is the business manager.
“One of the things we are looking forward to is reinventing the herbal medicines, which a lot our older customers have lived by for years, and introducing them to a new generation,” Carol Champion said.
The next phase for Champion Pharmacy is branding and marketing their own products — many created by Dr. Champion himself.
Champion credits his success to knowing his customers.
He keep up with trends, and is on Facebook regularly, doing live presentations on herb treatments.
And don’t ask him about retiring. He says there is too much to do.
“When you retire, you die, and so I have a lot of information in my mind,” he said. “A lot of formulas that I want to put together and put out and see if I can help somebody.”
Make sure to watch our 30-minute Hidden History special this Sunday at 11 a.m. We’ll have more of these inspiring stories.