MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis businessman and sports lover William ‘Billy’ Dunavant Jr. has passed away at age 88.
Dunavant's son, Bill Dunavant, confirmed the news and told us "My dad was a great Memphian. If he did one thing in his life, he loved his city. He was a giving man who wanted to make this city better for everyone."
Billy Dunavant leaves behind eight children, 22 grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren.
Dunavant was Chairman of the Board of Dunavant Enterprises, a global cotton company based in Memphis. He took over his father’s company in the 60s and led the company until his retirement in 2005.
A graduate of Memphis State University, as it was then known, he also once owned the Memphis Showboats football team in the United States Football League. He also was the longtime owner of the Memphis Racquet Club. He was named to the first Memphis Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.
In a statement posted to Facebook, Greater Memphis Chamber president and CEO Beverly Robertson said, "It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Billy Dunavant, who was a tireless advocate of Memphis and our business community. He leaves behind an indelible legacy of compassion and service to which we should all aspire."
On Twitter, University of Memphis President Dr. M. David Rudd said, “We are saddened to hear of the loss of one of our own alumni, Billy Dunavant. While conquering the business world, Dunavant never forgot his Memphis ties. A supporter of education, athletics and community projects, he will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on.”
Kentucky coach - and one-time Memphis basketball coach - John Calipari tweeted, “The city of Memphis, the state of Tennessee and countless others are mourning today the passing of Billy Dunavant. What Billy did in business and sports is well documented, but his philanthropy went well beyond what anyone knew. If it happened in Memphis, Billy was involved.
He was a loyal friend and a sounding board for everything we did at Memphis and he never said no, as long as I would talk it out over a lunch w/ the boys. I will miss his competitive spirit, his sharp humor and some of the obscene names he used to call me. Billy, my friend, RIP!”