Leav­ing his mark

Hootie John­son, for­mer Au­gusta Na­tional chair­man, dies at age 86

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

Hootie John­son, the South Carolina banker and Au­gusta Na­tional chair­man who stub­bornly stood his ground amid pres­sure for the club to in­vite fe­male mem­bers, died Thurs­day morn­ing. He was 86.

Au­gusta Na­tional an­nounced his death and cel­e­brated the sweep­ing changes to the Masters dur­ing his eight years as chair­man.

But it was his bat­tle with Martha Burk and her Na­tional Coun­cil of Women’s Or­ga­ni­za­tions that left his mark. Burk wrote to John­son in 2002 and urged Au­gusta Na­tional to in­vite fe­male mem­bers so that it wouldn’t be­come an is­sue at the Masters.

In a blis­ter­ing, three-page state­ment to re­porters, John­son said women might one day be in­vited, but it would be on the club’s timetable and “not at the point of a bay­o­net.’’ That be­came a sym­bol of his re­solve as John­son and Au­gusta Na­tional dug in deep against re­lent­less me­dia pres­sure.

He went so far as to drop the Masters’ tele­vi­sion spon­sors — IBM, Coca-Cola and Cit­i­group — to keep them out of the fray. That led to the first com­mer­cial-free broad­cast of a sport­ing event on net­work tele­vi­sion.

John­son stepped down as chair­man in 2006 and was suc­ceeded by Billy Payne, who ran the At­lanta Olympics in 1996. Au­gusta Na­tional, which opened in 1931 and did not have its first black mem­ber un­til 1990, in­vited two women to join in 2012. One was for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice. The other was South Carolina fi­nancier Darla Moore, whom John­son nom­i­nated.

His pub­lic im­age clashed with his legacy in busi­ness, where he was among the most pro­gres­sive bankers in the South.

He was born Wil­liam Wood­ward John­son on Feb. 16, 1931, and a child­hood friend gave him the nick­name “Hootie’’ when he was 5. John­son was a sec­ondteam full­back for South Carolina in the 1950s and be­came the youngest bank pres­i­dent in South Carolina in 1965 at Bankers Trust of South Carolina.

John­son was a key fig­ure in in­te­grat­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion in South Carolina in 1968, get­ting the state to pay for an un­der­grad­u­ate busi­ness pro­gram at South Carolina State, which then was at­tended only by blacks.

“It’s about noth­ing more or less than do­ing the right thing,’’ John­son told Golf Di­gest in a 2000 in­ter­view. “It was the most sat­is­fy­ing pub­lic ser­vice work I’ve ever done.’’

He later in­vited South Carolina State pres­i­dent M. Maceo Nance to serve on the board at Bankers Trust, the first black man ap­pointed to a bank board in the state.

John­son was in­vited to join Au­gusta Na­tional in 1968, and he was close with co-founder Clif­ford Roberts be­cause of their bank­ing in­ter­ests.

Be­fore the protest over the male-only mem­ber­ship at Au­gusta Na­tional, John­son was be­hind sig­nif­i­cant changes at the Masters.

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