William Bailey was a successful banker, financial executive and consultant, a champion of entrepreneurs of color, and a versatile artist whose talents ranged from painting to poetry to a sports-focused comic strip he drew for the Detroit Free Press.
Underlying his wide-ranging successes was an unyielding drive to provide for his family — and to forge a path for other Black people looking to break into finance, banking or any industry that had not historically welcomed them. Bailey, who died June 14 at age 83, took the responsibility so seriously that he never fully retired, even after a cancer diagnosis seven years ago.
In his final years, Bailey remained a caregiver for other family members and a mentor for others in business. He worked furiously to complete a book he called "Son of the Queen Cities: A Black Banker's Civil Rights Era Memoir." Family members said Bailey, of Eden Prairie, wanted others to see that their own work and perseverance could help change the world.
"He shared with me: 'You can tear down walls or barriers one brick at a time — and you're that brick,' " said nephew Marcus Glenn.
Born in Charlotte, N.C., Bailey was the son of a domestic worker mother and a father whose untreated epilepsy left him unable to work. When Bailey was 6, his parents split and his father left home. At the bus stop, Bailey's father turned to his son and told him it was his responsibility to look after his mother and two younger siblings; he started working as soon as he was able, picking beans and shining shoes.
"He took that so seriously, like it was his burden and his joy at the same time," said daughter Angela Bailey. "And it I guess it propelled him forward."
The family later moved to Buffalo, N.Y., where Bailey excelled in school and met his future wife of 65 years, JoAnn. After serving in France with the U.S. Air Force — a period in which he also taught himself to paint and draw — Bailey went back to work, this time at a Chevrolet plant. Childhood friend Edward Lawrence said Bailey, who by then had a growing family, soon turned his thoughts to another kind of career.
"I think he thought, 'I can do better than this, but I've got to get back in school and get a degree,' " Lawrence said.
Bailey did just that. He was the first in his family to attend college, earning a degree in economics. He later completed a master's degree in finance and launched a career in banking, working with several large banks and serving as president of a bank in Detroit before moving to the Twin Cities in the 1980s.
In Minnesota he took on several roles, including director of program lending for the Metropolitan Economic Development Association, or Meda, a nonprofit group focused on helping minority entrepreneurs. Bailey developed a wide network in the local business community, helping many business leaders secure loans and develop their ideas.
Al Coleman, who met Bailey when seeking help with a business loan, bonded with him over the challenges they faced as Black men working to succeed in business. Coleman said he and Bailey shared a strength from facing and overcoming adversity, over and over again.
"I think that was a built-in fail-safe; when we got to an impasse, we kept on going," Coleman said.
In addition to his wife and daughter Angela, Bailey is survived by four other children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services will be held via Zoom on July 10, and a private military burial is planned at Fort Snelling.
Erin Golden • 612-673-4790