Community Honors Dr. William ‘Bill’ Pickard at Charles H. Wright Museum Tribute

Photos by Monica Morgan Photography

The Charles H. Wright Museum hosted an unforgettable event on Friday evening. Loved ones, acquaintances, and esteemed leaders gathered to honor Dr. William ‘Bill’ Pickard’s extraordinary life and accomplishments before his scheduled Saturday funeral at Hartford Memorial Church.

Emotions ran deep as everyone commemorated Dr. Pickard’s significant influence on the community, recognizing his lasting impact and his profound impression on all those he has connected with. Even in the somber moments, the atmosphere was uplifting as warm embraces and lighthearted laughter filled the space. Attendees took turns sharing their most cherished memories of Dr. Pickard, painting a vivid picture of his impact on their lives.

Yvonne Price, who is married to Benard Price, a McDonald’s franchise owner, recently set aside some time to contemplate Pickard’s remarkable journey within the franchise.

“He (Bill) and my husband worked closely; they came into the business almost at the same time. They were both the first Black franchise owners,” Price said.

“They were brand new at this business thing and didn’t know what they were doing, but it really worked,” Price laughed.

Dr. Pickard grew up learning the values of hard work and education. In the 1950s, his family moved to Flint, Mich., where he first became interested in the automotive industry. Dr. Pickard earned an associate’s degree from Mott Community College and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Western Michigan University.

He obtained a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in education from Ohio State University. He was also awarded honorary doctorates from Clark Atlanta University (CAU) and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU).

Grand Valley State University (GVSU) President Philomena Mantella spoke about Dr. Pickard’s ties to the university and humorously referred to him as a “crafty provocateur.”

“He served in virtually every role possible, with one exception: He was never a student at Grand Valley State University. Bill was a board member from 1977- 1989. He was a mentor to our students, a thought partner to our leadership, and a builder of programs,” Mantella said.

Loved and respected across the country,  he was appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to serve in two distinguished roles. His list of accomplishments was awe-inspiring: he was the visionary founder of GAA Manufacturing.

Dr. Pickard was pivotal in collaborating with Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young later worked alongside Mayor Dennis Archer on various initiatives for the city’s development and progress. Colemon A. Young II. spoke on behalf of the Detroit City Council and the City of Detroit and recalled Pickard: ” [He] Said what he meant and meant what he said while looking you in the eye.”

Young II presented Dr. Pickard with a Testimonial Resolution from the City of Detroit, referencing that Pickard gave his love and knowledge, “And that’s what he (Pickard) gave to us.”

As a prominent partner of the MGM Grand Detroit Casino, the accomplished CEO of a McDonald’s management chain, and the proud co-owner of five newspapers, including The Michigan Chronicle, he always maintained a humble and down-to-earth demeanor despite his overwhelming success.

His leadership at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino helped elevate the establishment to new heights, his keen business acumen contributed to the growth and success of McDonald’s management chain, and his ownership of The Michigan Chronicle and four other newspapers solidified his influential role in the media industry. Despite all this, he remained grounded, approachable, and always willing to listen to others.

Albert E. Dotson, Jr., Chairman Emeritus of 100 Black Men of America Inc., wanted to ensure everyone knew Dr. Pickard was known for his incredibly compassionate and generous nature. But he also inspired young people he encountered, and they would listen to him, especially when he discussed entrepreneurship.

“You hear a lot about Bill’s generosity. But Bill did so much so silently, so quietly, with so much impact, and so many people will never know,” Dotson said.

‘Bill wanted us all just to have an opportunity.”

During the closing remarks, FAMU President Larry Robinson expressed that Dr. Pickard knew his influence would extend globally and leave a deep and lasting impression as he invested in education.

“To date, Dr. Pickard is the largest individual, non-alumni donor to the business school of FAMU,” Robinson said.

Dr. Pickard has been a staunch supporter of education, providing invaluable contributions to Wayne County Community College District, Fort Valley State University, Ohio State University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College. His philanthropic efforts also extend to the arts and culture sector, with generous support for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Motown Historical Museum, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO).

Dr. Pickard has made significant contributions to several business and non-profit organizations. He has been a board member for several organizations, such as Asset Acceptance Capital Corporation, Michigan National and LaSalle Banks, Business Leaders for Michigan, National Urban League, Detroit Black Chamber of Commerce, and National Park Foundation. In addition, he is a lifelong member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

At the celebration, a moving video montage was showcased, comprising heartfelt messages of appreciation and warm words from Dr. Pickard’s colleagues, business partners, and supporters as they expressed their gratitude and shared their heartfelt thoughts. However, the most touching and sincere words came from his daughter, Mary Pickard.

“Thank you for all the lessons you’ve taught me and all the memories we shared. Thank you for being an amazing support system that I’ve always needed. Thank you for being gentle, kind, and having a loving heart and for guiding me when you knew I needed it. Thank you so much, and I love you,” Mary said.

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