Bidding Farewell: Dr. William F. Pickard Homegoing Celebration of Life and Legacy

Photos by: Monica Morgan Photography

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. – Psalm 23:6.

With a solemn wave of remembrance and respect, the Detroit community near and far bids farewell to one of its most esteemed leaders, Dr. William “Bill” F. Pickard. Known as a prominent Detroit business leader and becoming one of the city’s first Black franchise owners of a McDonald’s restaurant, Dr. Pickard departed this world on June 12th at the age of 83. This monumental figure left an indelible mark on the heart of Detroit and beyond, passing away peacefully in his West Palm Beach, Florida home.

Dr. Pickard’s journey began in 1971 when he broke barriers as one of the first Black franchise owners of a McDonald’s. His entrepreneurial spirit blazed a trail for many, leading him to found the Global Automotive Alliance (GAA) Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management in 1989. The GAA has generated more than $5 billion in sales from its inception to the present day. Dr. Pickard was also a co-managing partner of the MGM Grand Detroit Casino and co-owner of five Black-owned newspapers, including The Michigan Chronicle.

His philanthropy was boundless, his heart as vast as the ocean, donating millions to local and national organizations. Institutions such as Western Michigan University, his alma mater, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Motown Historical Museum, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Wayne County Community College District, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. have all been beneficiaries of his generosity. In 2019, he was honored with “The Michigan Lifetime Humanitarian Award,” a testament to his unwavering commitment to uplifting the Black community.

Dr. Pickard’s achievements are numerous, but it was his character that truly resonated. At Saturday’s homegoing at the renowned Hartford Memorial Church, this is what was most remembered. As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Dr. Pickard left an indelible feeling that will never fade.

Photo: Hartford Memorial Church during homegoing.

His brothers from the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha and Sigma Pi Phi turned out in massive numbers, a testament to the powerful influence he had within their lives. As the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha gave their final words, they gathered two by two at the head of Pickard’s casket, taking a gracious last bow to their now heavenly brother. Each pew at Hartford Memorial Church was filled, a reflection of the impact he had on countless lives.

Notable figures in attendance included Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist, Conrad Mallet, Lane Coleman, Dave Bing, Dennis Archer Sr. and Jr., Alex Parrish, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, and many others. The solemn tone of the homegoing was set as Vivian Pickard, Dr. Pickard’s ex-wife and helpmate during his transition, was escorted with her sister Janis Rodgers by the Swanson sisters, Linda and Kim, to the cherry mahogany casket adorned with bold white florals. Dressed in black, the sisters supported each other as Vivian kissed her late ex-husband a final goodbye. Mary Pickard, Dr. Pickard’s daughter, wept mournfully at her father’s head, yet the love and admiration for him gave her strength to say farewell.

Photo: Dr. William F. Pickard lies peacefully.

Photo: Dennis Archer Sr. and Jr. share a heartwarming embrace after Archer Sr. gave reflections.

As Dr. Pickard showed his face for the last time, tears flowed much like the Jordan River. The organist set the scene with powerful chords, crescendoing at all the appropriate moments, signaling his final descent. Linda Swanson gracefully closed the casket, a final farewell. Shortly after, with the organ strings still ringing, the audience stood and began to clap in unison—a nod to a job well done. The choir filled the sanctuary with the angelic melody of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

“He stood out for lots of reasons,” shared Alex Parrish, “he was brilliant, he was an incredible businessman, but the thing that made him so unique was his generosity. We heard a lot about his extraordinary philanthropy supporting so many universities and museums and non-profit organizations. Yes, he was certainly that, but his generosity to people he hardly knew was extraordinary. There are so many stories of Bill changing lives. That is his greatest legacy. All I can say is wow, Bill Pickard was a magnificent man and boy will he be missed.”

Photo: Alex Parrish, Partner at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP shares his reflections.

Photo: Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media and Publisher of Michigan Chronicle shares his reflections.

Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media and Publisher of Michigan Chronicle, began his reflections with an uplifted spirit, sharing his gratitude for Dr. Pickard’s influence on his life. “I met Doc almost 35 years ago. This is a blessing to be able to stand before this community and share my gratitude. I feel like I’m representing so many men and women here that I’ve met through Doc over the last 35 years, men and women that he has had such an impact on. Bill grabbed me at a key moment and helped shape the rest of my life. He sat me down and talked about the newspaper business, he talked to me about Black men who had changed the course and trajectory of their community through the Black press. He talked about giving to Black people. Doc had an undying love for Black people. He talked to me about loving Black people, and they will love you back. I’m going to miss this man. Doc would challenge you; he would get you to do things that you did not think you could do, and that’s what he leaves all of us, a legacy of being big dreamers.”

Mary Pickard, Dr. Pickard’s daughter, shared a heartfelt tribute to her father. “At the end of last year, we received news that time was not on our side. My dad and I decided that time was what we were going to spend together. In that time, we planned birthday parties, watched sermons, old and new, and talked about hopes and dreams for the future. And it was great. But I would be remiss if I said that just me was medicine enough. He had doctors and nurses galore that made his last months great months. I wanted to personally thank our team. So, thank you all so much. Thank you to everyone who’s made these last few days possible. We are grateful for all the love and support that we’ve received these past couple of weeks, and we know that this family, all of you here today, that my dad has created is not going to end today.”

Photo: Mary Pickard, daughter of Dr. William F. Pickard, gives final acknowledgments. 

Photo: Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, Senior Pastor, Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, TX gives final eulogy. 

Following the uplifting sermon of retired Rev. Dr. Otis Moss of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, OH, Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, coming from Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, TX, gave a eulogy that sent the sanctuary to higher dimensions—a true testament to a suitable farewell for Dr. William Pickard. “He was a real one. Loss is not only devastating, but it disrupts our plans, intercepts our itinerary, and breaks our hearts. Magic Johnson, when he retired from playing in the NBA as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, messed up everything the Lakers were looking forward to in the coming season. Just a season before, the Lakers had been to the NBA Finals, succumbing to the Chicago Bulls. They were looking forward to a year where they would go on another championship run. And yet, when Magic Johnson announced that he was retiring because he had contracted HIV, it was a loss that intercepted their itinerary and disrupted their plans. Barry Sanders was playing with the Detroit Lions. Barry Sanders, that Hall of Fame spectacular, perhaps the greatest running back to carry a football. But when Barry announced his retirement from the Detroit Lions, it disrupted the plans of the coaching staff as they were getting ready for what was for the season ahead. It was a loss that was disruptive.”

Haynes began to dig deeper, “I believe there’s a metaphor that really speaks to this, coming from that woman called Moses, Harriet Tubman. When she self-emancipated and daringly and courageously escaped, once she touched down in Philadelphia, her itinerary was intercepted by a funeral procession. The metaphor is powerful because there was a loss that she was witnessing. The loss she was witnessing had disrupted her plans and intercepted her itinerary. We gathered here at historic Hartford to share in the light, love, and legacy of one hero, that we love and adore, who we shall always be indebted to. And yet, as we stand here, as I stand here, I must testify. There is a loss that I feel. An emptiness, a void, that has intercepted my itinerary. It’s disrupted our plans. That’s what losses will do. And so, my sisters and brothers, as we celebrate the life, liberating love, and legacy of one William F. Pickard, let us at least be honest and testify on behalf of those of us who were privileged to know him, that his loss has left a huge void. It has intercepted our itinerary. It has disrupted our plans. After all, the loss is huge.”

Rev. Dr. Haynes painted a picture so vividly relatable it was only natural to call it awe-inspiring. “I think I’ll quote Jay Z, since he liked to quote Jay Z, and talk about the real Pickard, he went from culprit to president because every other deal he made set precedent. Real Pickard was like that. And my sisters and brothers, the real Pickard, in a real sense, was a real one,” Haynes emphasized.

Dr. William F. Pickard was a powerful man and an immeasurable human being. When the phrase “one man can change the world” was coined, they must have been speaking of Dr. Pickard himself. In the words of Mahalia Jackson, “If I can help somebody, as I travel along / If I can help somebody, with a word or song / If I can help somebody, from doing wrong / No, my living shall not be in vain.” For Dr. Pickard, this resonates deeply with his soul and everlasting impact on this side of heaven. Rest well, Doc. Job well done.


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