William Woodward “Hootie” Johnson was remembered Monday as a man who never strayed far from his Greenwood and South Carolina roots, and an ordinary man who managed to do extraordinary good.
“And he was an extraordinary man who absolutely knew that he was ordinary,” the Rev. Bradley D. Smith said. “He was as down to earth and unpretentious as you could be.”
Johnson — who helped create Bank of America, once chaired the Augusta National Golf Club that annually holds the Masters tournament and was a reformer in S.C. political circles — died of congestive heart failure Friday at the age of 86.
A capacity crowd of about 600 filled a memorial service Monday at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia, where Johnson was a member.
Among those attending were:
▪ S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and his wife, Peggy
▪ Lake City financier and USC donor Darla Moore
▪ retired banking magnate Hugh McColl
▪ Augusta National chairman Billy Payne
Payne was joined by about three rows of Augusta National members.
No dignitaries or family members spoke at the service.
However, McColl, who with Johnson helped create the bank that became Bank of America, said in a statement: “No man has done more for his state, his industry, and for the weak and disadvantaged.”
Earlier than most, Johnson saw that interstate banking — across state lines, rather than limiting a bank to just operating within a single state — would be the norm in the future and worked tirelessly to create a national banking brand, McColl said.
“He approached me in 1984 and suggested we try to put our banks together with First National Bank in Atlanta to build a Southern power house,” McColl said.
However, First National rejected a deal, later becoming part of N.C.-based Wachovia, now Wells Fargo.
“My failing at First Atlanta is well documented,” McColl recalled, “but true to his word Hootie went forward with our merger as soon as the law allowed in 1985. He became chairman of the Executive Committee of NCNB and, in that role, encouraged the aggressive expansion of the bank until it acquired the Bank of America.”
During that time, Johnson “championed tough causes such as the eradication of racial discrimination and equal opportunity for all,” McColl said. “He was a great man, a great leader and a great friend.”
Smith, senior pastor at Eastminster and a long-time friend of Johnson, said the retired banker took the most pride in having chaired a committee on school desegregation in South Carolina in the 1960s.
Smith also touched on Johnson’s dedication to his family, including the wisdom that he imparted to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Smith called them “hootie-isms.”
“Do the right and do it the right way.
“Be respectful of others.
“Persevere and keep persevering.
“Do not show off.
“Be humble always.”
It was the contrast of Johnson’s grand accomplishments and his humble demeanor that was most striking to Smith.
“It’s amazing what this man did for the nation but lived within a 100 miles of his birthplace his entire life,” he said.