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Louis Willie; helped defuse racial flap at PGA tourney

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Louis J. Willie Jr., a black businessman who helped defuse a racial dispute surrounding the 1990 PGA Championship by becoming an honorary member at the all-white Shoal Creek club, has died. He was 84.

His death Sunday night was confirmed by Booker T. Washington Insurance, the company for which Mr. Willie worked as an executive. He had Alzheimer's disease.

Shoal Creek Country Club, in suburban Birmingham, was the site of the 1990 PGA Championship. Protests mounted after the club president said Shoal Creek would not be pressured into accepting black members. Mr. Willie helped quiet the situation by accepting an offer of honorary membership.

Afterward, the Professional Golf Association and other golf groups said they would no longer hold tournaments at clubs that lacked minorities or women as members. An advertising executive became Shoal Creek's first dues-paying black member in 1996.

"What I admired most about my father was his willingness to be available to help the community," said his son, Louis III.

The elder Willie was a close adviser to the late A.G. Gaston, a black businessman in Birmingham who became a self-made millionaire during the Jim Crow era despite laws mandating segregation.

A native of Texas, Mr. Willie helped Gaston build a business empire that included Booker T. Washington Insurance, Citizens Federal Savings Bank, now called Citizens Trust Bank, and two radio stations.

Mr. Willie also was known for his community involvement.

In addition to his son, Mr. Willie leaves his wife, Yvonne, three brothers, a sister, and a grandson.

A public memorial service is scheduled for tomorrow, his son said.

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