The type of people that William Otis "Bill" Little knew and befriended could easily become the topic of conversation around the water cooler, perhaps because many of them were reputed for their achievements in sports and education.
But those who knew Little would consider him to have been just as accomplished in both fields as his distinguished friends.
Little was the sports editor for the Tri-State Defender for more than 50 years, an educator, basketball coach and sports official. He also played in the Negro Baseball League for the Memphis Red Sox and the Kansas City Monarchs as a catcher from 1952 to 1957.
On Feb. 26, Little died at St. Francis Hospital following a sustained illness. He was 79.
"We were batboys at the same time when we were about 12 or 13 years old," said Reginald Howard, who scurried across the field with baseball bats for the visiting teams from the Negro Baseball League when they played in South Bend, Ind. Meanwhile, Little was carrying baseball bats and equipment for the Memphis Red Sox.
"When Bill came in with the Memphis Red Sox, I had to take a back seat," said Howard, who would go on to play an infield position for the Indianapolis Clowns.
A native of South Bend, Howard moved to Memphis in 1979 and rekindled his relationship with Little. "We always stayed in touch with each other and celebrated our birthdays together (both in December)," he said. "I was seeing him twice a week up to the end."
Ollie Brantley, who pitched for the Sox from 1951-53, also kept in contact with Little. "We were friends. I admired him," said Brantley, a resident of Marion, Ark. "He was an outstanding young man and very popular. He was very smart and had lots of friends."
Little knew all the players in the League and its history, said Brantley, recalling the immense crowds that would gather for weekend games at Martin Stadium – home to the Sox – when it was located at Wellington and Crump.
"The Negro League was big... and everybody liked Bill," he said.
Although Little made an impression on the field as a player, he also left his mark in the classroom as a teacher and coach in the former Memphis City Schools. He coached high school basketball and baseball for 28 years and officiated basketball and football games in the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) for more than 30 years.
Little's accomplishments included winning two city basketball titles and three baseball crowns on the high school level, He was voted baseball and basketball "Coach of the Year" and was elected to the Vanguard Club's Coaches Hall of Fame in 1998.
When Little was a student in grade school, Dr. William Herman Sweet was finishing Booker T. Washington High School. Their paths would converge in later years when the two began officiating for SWAC, after joining the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and during Dr. Sweet's tenure as a teacher, principal and area superintendent for MCS.
"He was a nice guy and hung around the athletes," Dr. Sweet recalls. "He took a great interest in the kids and was dedicated to the athletes. He was a good mentor for the kids as well. Though he was small in statue, he held their respect."
So much of Little's professional life was tied to sports, but then he was able to multitask as the sports columnist for the TSD. His dedication to sports was evident in the columns he'd write each week for the newspaper.
"Bill was a dedicated sports editor, not only for the Tri-State Defender, but for the whole community," said Audrey McGhee, former TSD publisher. "He was well respected by his peers in the sports media."
He also earned his place in history, she said.
The aforementioned friends all agreed that Little was well mannered and was such a nice guy. Jacqueline Hall concurred, but added that her father was "pretty easy going and really quiet around the house."
"There would be little interaction unless it was about sports," said Hall, an executive assistant at FedEx. "There were very short conversations, but he was very observant. That was the kind of person he was."
In the early 1970's, Hall had come to realize the extent of her father's connections when country music legend Charlie Pride came to the Little household for dinner. Pride pitched for the Sox in the Negro League and became good friends with Little.
"I was so excited. That was the highlight of the day," said Hall, adding, "My dad would play country music and I started liking country music because Charlie Pride came to the house."
Hall said she noticed a change within her father after her mother, Geraldine "Gerri" Anderson Little, died and after her brother, William O. Little II, was left disabled in a car accident.
"They were his focus," she said.
Little earned a B.S. degree from The LeMoyne Owens College and a M.Ed. degree from the former Memphis State University. He was a communicant of St. Augustine Catholic Church and a member of the church's illustrious Men's Club. He also was a member of The Loafers, Inc., a men's social group.
He is survived by a son, William O. Little II; another daughter, Lillian Martin; and one sister, Louise Little Jones, all of Memphis; four grandsons, seven great-grandchildren, and myriad nieces, nephews, colleagues, friends and extended family.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. March 15 at St. Augustine Catholic Church, with burial in New Park Cemetery on Horn Lake Rd. Wolfe Funeral Home in West Memphis, Ark., has charge.