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Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.
Dr. Charles O. Dillard is quick to point out the difference between his name and his father’s – their middle initial – but the similarities are otherwise hard to ignore. The son followed a close parallel to his father over the course of his life: serving in the military, joining him in the medical field, choosing to practice in underserved communities in Cincinnati, and both practicing for just about 50 years.
“His practice was in the West End at that time, and he made care available to everyone, and I’ve done the same thing,” said Dr. Dillard. “I wasn’t going to come back home because he was a doctor here. I said, ‘Oh, well, he’s already done it, I’ll go somewhere else.’”
For Cincinnatians, it’s a good thing he came back. Dr. Dillard has continued to help underserved and disadvantaged communities over the course of his nearly 50-year career, and even now, after retirement, he’s not quite done.
“Well, one of the main things I do now is purchase fruit and give it to areas where kids can’t afford fruit,” said Dr. Dillard. “I’ve been giving it to the Boys and Girls Club, a couple inner city schools, some of the food pantries. [This work] ties into something I do with the military [organization] called Mission Readiness – our aim is to provide food and lobby the politicians to put more money in early childhood education and nutrition.”
A graduate of Fisk University, Dr. Dillard (again following his father’s wisely-tread path) went to Meharry Medical College, an historically black medical school in Nashville, Tennessee. (In his youth, Dr. Dillard attended Frederick Douglass Elementary School and Walnut Hills High School, and is now in both of their alumni associations.) After graduation, he served two years via the doctor draft in the army, leaving in 1964. He finished his residency in Detroit in 1967 and returned to Cincinnati, opening an office in Avondale.
“In medicine, I’ve always advocated that healthcare should be a right, not a privilege,” said Dr. Dillard. “I just felt that the poor and disadvantaged need quality healthcare and unfortunately, to those without the means, it’s rationed. Money talks and buys the best healthcare. I was instrumental in setting up a neighborhood health center where we didn’t turn away the people without health insurance or other resources.”
In the late 1970s, Dr. Dillard decided to give military service a try again and joined the Ohio National Guard. He became one of the first African American medical officers in the country to attain the rank of Brigadier General. Through his work with Caring Partners International, both as a doctor and as a board member, Dr. Dillard serves as a medical missionary (something he has also done through the military in 15 countries) and collects much-needed medical supplies. He remains active in the civic sector, working with A Few Good Men, an organization that supports the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, a hundred-year-old organization that helps the poor in the city. He also serves as a backup physician for the MRDD center in Batavia. Dr. Dillard is also an active member of the NAACP, the Zion Baptist Church, Alpha Phi Alpha, Sigma Pi Phi.
In 1980, Dr. Dillard purchased a building in Walnut Hills to transform into a medical center, which eventually became the community and business center it is today. Once more, his father’s influence lives on.
“I named the building after my father, the Charles E. Dillard Memorial Building,” he said. “I tell people I’m not vain, it’s not named after me, it’s named after my father.”
Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization