Detroit philanthropist and Wayne State School of Social Work supporter William Pickard dies at 83

William “Bill” Pickard, PhD, a renowned entrepreneur, philanthropist, and former Wayne State University School of Social Work (SSW) faculty member, passed away peacefully on June 12, 2024, at his West Palm Beach, Florida home, surrounded by family and loved ones at the age of 83.

Pickard, affectionately known as “Doc”, earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan and a PhD from The Ohio State University. He was one of the first Black men to own a McDonald’s franchise. Pickard went on to become the chairman and founder of Global Auto Alliance Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management and GAA New Ventures, CEO of Bearwood Management McDonald’s, co-managing partner of MGM Grand Detroit Casino, and co-owner of five Black-owned newspapers. 

William Pickard smiling outside
William Pickard, PhD in 2017 at the WSU School of Social Work space naming dedication in his honor.

Pickard was a long-time supporter of the School of Social Work, generously donating funds to support renovations in the school’s new building in 2017 and with endowed scholarships that will support social work students for years to come. “Dr. Pickard was a gracious, modest and kind person whose generosity was always about impact and honoring others,” noted Tracy Utech, Wayne State University associate vice president of principal giving. Pickard’s scholarships aim to support students within the Association of Black Social Workers who participate in clinical practicum placements at Black Family Development or another Detroit agency that serves Detroit families.

Each of the five scholarships that Pickard contributed was made in honor of someone who had made a significant impact on Pickard’s development as a leader, including SSW master’s program alum Paul L. Hubbard in recognition of their long friendship and for Hubbard’s championing of social work as a tool for change and his work to make Black families stronger.  

“Dr. Bill Pickard was one of the top African American businessmen in the USA. He had a Presidential appointment to the International World Bank. However, he always supported the need of social work in our society and was always a social worker at heart,” said Hubbard. “Bill was dedicated to lifting the Black community, especially Black males. Bill was a multi-millionaire but always shared his wealth. Bill was a godly Black man who was an asset to the world.”

Pickard served on numerous business and nonprofit boards, including the National Urban League, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Black Chamber of Commerce, and received many awards and accolades throughout his career. He was named Michiganian of the Year in 2001 and received the Michigan Lifetime Humanitarian Award in 2019.

“We are so grateful for Dr. Pickard’s support of the SSW through the years, but also extremely appreciative of his vision to lift the broader community through social work action. His visionary leadership will be greatly missed,“ stated WSU Social Work Dean and Professor Sheryl Kubiak.

Pickard’s daughter, Mary Pickard, issued the following statement: "On behalf of our family, we extend our heartfelt gratitude for the love and support during this difficult time. Your kindness has provided immense comfort. Funeral arrangements will be announced soon."

The announcement of Pickard’s passing has been included in several local publications including The Detroit News, Fox 2 Detroit, CBS News Detroit, Crain’s Detroit Business, and the Michigan Chronicle. According to the Detroit Free Press visitation is scheduled for 12 - 5 pm Friday, June 28, 2024 at Swanson Funeral (14751 W. McNichols in Detroit). "An Evening of Special Tributes: Honoring Dr. William F. Pickard" will take place from 6 - 8 pm on Friday, June 28, 2024 at the Charles H. Wright Museum (315 W. Warren in Detroit). The funeral service is Saturday, June 29, 2024 at the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church (18700 James Couzens Freeway in Detroit). Family hour is scheduled for 10 am with the funeral starting at 11 am. An Omega Service from the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity will be held at 10:30 am and an Omega Service from the Sigma Pi Phi fraternity will be held at 10:45 am.

Writer: Sarah Freeman and Editor: Betsy Vanderstelt

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