Memphis businessman William B. ‘Billy’ Dunavant dies


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis businessman and cotton industrialist William B. “Billy” Dunavant has died. He was 88.

Dunavant became the CEO of Dunavant Enterprises after the death of his father in 1961. According to Dunavant Enterprises, the company would go on to participate in the first sale of U.S. cotton to mainland China in 1972, and made the largest individual sale to China in 1990.

Dunavant retired from his position and CEO, but continued to serve as Chairman of the board. His son, William B. Dunavant III, is the current CEO of Dunavant Enterprises.

Beverly Robertson, president and CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber, said Dunavant was a “tireless advocate of Memphis and our business community.”

“He leaves behind a legacy of compassion and service to which we should all aspire,” Robertson said.

Dunavant was a graduate of the University of Memphis. University president Dr. M. David Rudd released a statement on Dunavant’s death.

“A supporter of education, athletics and community projects, he will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on,” Rudd said in part.

Dunavant was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 and was inducted into the Memphis Sports Hall of Fame in 2019. He was known for building the Racquet Club, the site of the long-running pro tennis tournament.

John Calipari, University of Kentucky head men’s basketball coach and former Memphis basketball coach, called Dunavant a loyal friend.

“I will miss his competitive spirit, his sharp humor and some of the obscene names he used to call me,” Calipari said in part.

Dunavant was also the former owner of the Memphis Showboats football team and led the city’s drive for an NFL expansion team.

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