W.W. “Hootie” Johnson, who grew up in Greenwood and became a banking, government and sports giant in South Carolina, died Friday. He was 86.
Johnson helped create Bank of America, the nation’s second-largest bank; chaired Augusta National Golf Club, the home of The Masters, for eight years; helped lead the effort to desegregate South Carolina’s colleges and universities; and directed the state Ports Authority.
He served briefly in the state General Assembly and supported political candidates from both parties, including Republicans U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond and Gov. Carroll Campbell along with Democrats U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings and Gov. Robert McNair. A USC running back in the 1950s, he was a major supporter of the university for decades.
“South Carolina lost one of her most successful business leaders and philanthropists,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of Seneca. “There was no better spokesman for South Carolina business than Hootie, and to say he was a man of action would be a tremendous understatement.”
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Fred Green of Columbia, president of the South Carolina Bankers Association, called Johnson “one of the iconic figures” both in the financial industry and the Midlands. “From what he did in banking to all he did for the community, he was invaluable,” Green said.
“It’s a loss for all of us.”
All his adult life, Johnson went by his childhood nickname instead of his given name of William Woodward. Everyone he met, from business and political leaders to those he met while shopping at the grocery store, called him “Hootie.”
He was passionate about the Midlands and South Carolina.
“My roots are deep here,” Johnson said in an interview with The State newspaper in 2011. “This is my home. I don’t mind traveling to go somewhere every 10 years or so, but my whole life has been here. I have observed this state’s history and been fortunate to be a part of it.”
Johnson got his start in banking at a young age, working for his father’s bank in Greenwood as a teenager. He began by filing checks and then worked as a teller.
A high school football star in Greenwood, he entered USC and played for Coach Rex Enright. He also enrolled in business classes.
"My father wanted to build a statewide bank coming out of Greenwood and I wanted to help him do it," Johnson said in the 2011 interview. "That had been the idea since I was 14."
Johnson and his older brother, Wellsman, worked with their father to build the Bank of Greenwood into Bankers Trust of South Carolina.
He eventually began doing business with another South Carolina banker’s son, Hugh McColl of Bennettsville. The two men became friends and shared a vision to build a national bank. That dream eventually became Bank of America.
“Hootie was probably the most influential sounding board for Hugh McColl during most of the major acquisitions and expansions they undertook,” said Joel Smith, former USC business school dean, in a 2001 interview.
“He was McColl's closest confidant and adviser,” said Smith, who began his career with Bankers Trust and then spent 15 years with Bank of America. “Hootie played a major role in the development of Bank of America.”
Neither McColl nor Smith could not be reached for comment Friday.
Kim Wilkerson, the South Carolina president of Bank of America, said Johnson’s imprint as a business leader includes “a legacy of leadership, particularly in responsible growth, diversity and inclusion.”
Johnson also left an imprint on his college alma mater. Amongst his biggest legacies was convincing businesswoman Darla Moore, a fellow University of South Carolina alum, to donate $25 million to help build a new business school. The school is named after Moore.
“He had a great love for his alma mater and was a generous benefactor,” USC President Harris Pastides said.
In 2011, Johnson described himself as a political independent after working with liberals, conservatives and people from both parties. “I just want to do what is right for America and for South Carolina,” he told The State at the time.
Mike Campbell, son for the former governor, called Johnson “a catalyst who brought together people from both sides of the aisle.”
Said USC trustee Dorn Smith: “The gentlemen was just an exceptional individual in everything he did.”
His funeral will be Monday. He is survived by wife Pierrine, four daughters and their families.
Staff writer Avery G. Wilks contributed to this story
Funeral services for W.W. “Hootie” Johnson will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Eastminster Presbyterian Church, 3200 Trenholm Road, Columbia.