In the ensuing media uproar Lott chose not to fight but to capitulate, and his subsequent humiliation and loss of power has not been lost on Johnson. He is a voracious reader of biographies; Jefferson, John Adams and Teddy Roosevelt are among the figures that most intrigue him, but when Johnson is asked to name his historical hero he cites two—Lincoln and Truman. "They could both make the tough decisions regardless of the heat," he says.
There is something heroic about a man resolutely standing up for what he believes, especially in the face of a media firestorm and the searing forces of political correctness. Johnson has been unmoved by pressure to admit a woman member and end the circus. "We will prevail," he says, "because we are right."
Croker was the kind who liked to be known as
Charlie, not Charles, because it was earthier....
He liked to feel Down Home, elemental.
—A Man in Full
Hootie Johnson and Augusta National were born in the same town in the same year, 1931, and four years later he was a spectator at the second Masters, though he has no recollection of Gene Sarazen's famous double eagle on the 15th hole during the final round. (Hootie picked up his nickname from a childhood playmate; his older brother, Wellsman, went by Bubba.) Hootie's father, Dewey, was a three handicapper, and he taught his son the game at Augusta Country Club, a family-friendly outpost that abuts its more famous neighbor, the National.
When Hootie was 11, his father—who began his banking career out of high school as a lowly runner—headed a group of investors who purchased a small bank in Greenwood; he then moved the family to that mill town in northwest South Carolina. It was there that Hootie's life took on all the flourishes of the Norman Rockwell oeuvre. At Greenwood High he grew into a devilishly handsome football star, and the son of the bank president soon began going steady with one of the most popular girls in school, Pierrine Baker, the raven-haired granddaughter of one of Greenwood's most progressive mayors.
Dewey and his wife, Mabel, were community leaders with an activist bent, and dinner conversation in the Johnson household often veered into politics. Dewey was a color-blind Democrat, and his convictions were never clearer than during the '48 presidential election, when Thurmond and his third-party Dixiecrat platform easily carried the state. Dewey cast his vote for Truman.
If Johnson learned social responsibility at home, football taught him a leather-helmeted toughness. Greenwood High's legendary coach, J.W. (Pinky) Babb, was a taskmaster obsessed with fundamentals, and he brought out the best in Johnson. Described in the Greenwood Index-Journal as the "blond wheelhorse of the Emerald backfield," the "crazy-legged" tailback led Greenwood to the state championship in 1948, and during his four-year career he scored 43 touchdowns, two on runs of 90 yards or more. He was as ornery as he was elusive. During the 1946 season he was kicked out of two games for fighting.
It was at the University of South Carolina that Johnson suffered the first significant setback of his charmed life. He played behind talented upperclassmen until his junior year, and late that season he lost his starting job, in part because of a tendency to fumble. Johnson, however, was not the quitting type. He volunteered to move to fullback, and during his senior year, in 1952, he earned the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, given to the best collegiate blocker in the state. "Hootie just loved to run people over," says an old college teammate, quarterback Johnny Gramling.
Following graduation Johnson (and his bride, Pierrine, whom he had married in the summer of 1951) moved back to Greenwood to work for his father at the bank. Dewey died in 1961, and four years later Hootie became the youngest bank president in the state. Through a series of shrewd mergers and acquisitions the Bank of Greenwood would soon morph into Bankers Trust and grow into a regional power. Entrenched in Columbia's ruling class, he began to dabble in the highest level of politics in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union in advance of the Civil War and, in the wake of the civil rights movement, one of the last to integrate.
Johnson saw the tumultuous racial politics of the day in the black-and-white terms of his father: Electing African-Americans to public office was the right thing to do. In 1970 Hootie threw his weight behind a handful of black candidates, and when the votes were tallied, James Felder, Herbert Fielding and I.S. Leevy Johnson became the first blacks to be elected to South Carolina's General Assembly since 1902. Says I.S. Leevy Johnson, "I can still hear those campaign radio ads in my head, and they would always end, 'Paid for by the Democratic Party of South Carolina, Hootie Johnson, treasurer.' Those were the days of a lot of empty rhetoric, but Hootie put his name on the line for us." (And that name was always Hootie, not William. "He thought it made him more approachable, and he's right," says I.S. Leevy Johnson.)