Obituaries

Hootie Johnson, 86; kept women out of club that hosts the Masters

Mr. Johnson was chairman of Augusta National, home of the Masters tournament.

Associated Press/file 2002

Mr. Johnson was chairman of Augusta National, home of the Masters tournament.

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 Friday. 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 defined his legacy at the Masters.

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Burk wrote to Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Johnson and Augusta National dug in deep against relentless media pressure.

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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.

Mr. 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 Mr. Johnson nominated.

Burk, who currently is working on gender-equity salary projects, said Mr. Johnson ‘‘personified the thinking of dinosaurs.’’

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‘‘What I have to say, and I thought this for years, is it’s really a shame that he engaged in the Augusta controversy the way he did,’’ Burk said. ‘‘But I think history will remember him as the Lester Maddox of golf. And I think that’s unfortunate.’’

Maddox, a segregationist and former governor of Georgia, was known for violating the Civil Rights Act by refusing to serve black customers in his Atlanta restaurant.

Mr. Johnson’s 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. Mr. Johnson was a second-team fullback for South Carolina in the 1950s and became the youngest bank president in South Carolina in 1965 at Bankers Trust of South Carolina.

Mr. 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.’’

Before the protest over the male-only membership at Augusta National, Mr. Johnson was behind significant changes at the Masters. All but four of the holes were strengthened during his tenure, stretching the course from 6,985 yards to 7,445 yards.

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