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Man Who Defused Racial Situation at Shoal Creek Passes


Louis. J. Willie Jr., the Birmingham, Ala., businessman who helped defuse a situation that nearly led to the cancellation of the 1990 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek Country Club, has died. Mr. Willie, 84, succumbed after a long battle with Alzheimer's.

Mr. Willie made history after he agreed to become the first black member of the exclusive Shoal Creek Country Club. The club, which had no members of color, was set to host one of golf's major championships in 1990. But protesters raised a ruckus, and the PGA of America threatened to cancel their big annual tournament if the club didn't change its policy and admit members of color. Willie stepped in and joined the club, allowing the event to proceed without further incident.

Mr. Willie was a business executive and close adviser to the late A.G. Gaston. Willie helped Gaston build a business empire in Birmingham that included Booker T. Washington Insurance, Citizens Federal Savings Bank (now known as Citizens Trust Bank) and the WENN-FM and WAGG-AM radio stations. Mr. Willie was known for his community involvement, and was a trailblazer in breaking down color barriers at Birmingham's Downtown Club and The Club.

He was a founding member of the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club, said Kirkwood Balton, who became president of the Gaston's empire when Mr. Willie retired in 1994. Mr. Willie served on the boards of Alabama Power, AmSouth Bank and served on boards or as an adviser to such groups as the Birmingham Museum of Art, St. Vincent's Hospital, Operation New Birmingham and the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Willie is survived by his wife of 58 years, Yvonne; three brothers and a sister; his son and grandson. A public memorial service is set for 11 a.m. on September 21 at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham.