Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown earns Post Foundation's Luminary prize

Physician dedicates career to service and advocacy

Published Friday, May 31, 2019

She’s a physician and a minister who heals both physically and spiritually. Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown is The Charlotte Post Foundation 2019 Luminary.
For healing and for promoting opportunity, Garmon-Brown will be honored with The Charlotte Post Foundation's highest award at its banquet Oct. 5 at the Hilton Center City.
Garmon-Brown, a board-certified family physician and chief community wellness and health equity executive at Novant Health, also holds a master’s degree in divinity and is an associate minister at Charlotte’s St. Luke Baptist Church.
“I consider myself a person who was blessed to have two amazing service opportunities,” said Garmon-Brown.
The Rev. Clifford Matthews of St. Luke Baptist praised another trait.

“She’s a door opener,” said Matthews, who served with her on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, formed to address Charlotte’s upward mobility deficit.

Co-chairing the Opportunity Task Force, now called the Leading Opportunity Council, is one of two accomplishments of which Garmon-Brown said she’s most proud. The other is co-founding the Charlotte Community Health Clinic, which provides quality health care for low-income patients.

Garmon-Brown’s boss at Novant Health, Chief Executive Carl Armato, lauded her work with another agency, One Charlotte Health Alliance.

“It’s one of the first of its kind to address disparities and build a stronger Charlotte,” he said. “That’s Ophelia. She’s always looking at how she can help others. She has travelled the globe as a medical missionary.”

Gerald Johnson, publisher of The Charlotte Post and president of The Charlotte Post Foundation, said, “Dr. Garmon-Brown has served this community and beyond as a physician, a minister, a missionary, a volunteer and a servant leader. Her community activism and humanitarianism focused on uplifting those who were undermined and overlooked.”

Garmon-Brown’s father died of encephalitis, which sparked her interest in medicine.

“I started saying when I was four that I wanted to be a doctor,” she said. “I wanted to save all daddies.”

After the family moved back to its roots in eastern North Carolina, she majored in biology at North Carolina Central University, then got her medical degree at the UNC School of Medicine.

Garmon-Brown was the first African American woman in family medicine at Charlotte Memorial Hospital, now Atrium Health's Carolinas Medical Center. Later, she joined Metrolina Family Physicians, which became the Nalle Clinic. Because the clinic’s doctors practiced at both Charlotte hospitals, she became connected to Presbyterian Hospital, now Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

Early on, Garmon-Brown noticed a knack for ministry
“I would go into a hospital room and ministry would happen,” she remembered. “What came from my spirit, it connected with their spirit.”
At the urging of mentors, she enrolled at Union Theological Seminary Presbyterian School of Christian Education.
“I came out a Presbyterian minister,” she said. “But guess what? I’m a Baptist.”
Garmon-Brown trained with Matthews at St. Luke, then moved to Myers Park Baptist, where she met Nancy Hudson, with whom she co-founded the Community Free Clinic, which became Charlotte Community Health Clinic.  
After a time, Garmon-Brown returned to St. Luke where she's been nurtured, especially in her personal battle against cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 2012. At one time or another, the disease has invaded her arm, lungs, brain, kidney, abdomen and liver. Chemotherapy continues.
“In my walk with cancer, Rev. Matthews has been minister, brother, nurturer and preacher – he’s been all that for me,” she said.
Garmon-Brown’s an inspiration to others who are fighting the disease, Matthews said. He knows people who renew their hope each time they see her. 
“So many say, ‘If she can make it, I can make it,’” he said.
Garmon-Brown’s older sister, Olivia Thomas, a retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher, said her sister feels a responsibility for other
“She will literally give you the clothes off her back," Thomas said, “and if you can't wear those she’ll take you shopping.”
Matthews believes Garmon-Brown’s most important legacy is connected to the Leading Opportunity Task Force
“One of her colleagues said she opened doors,” Matthews said. “That’s who she is. She has spent her life opening doors of opportunity for other people.”