Legislature's 'Hat Lady' Dies

LITTLE ROCK, AR - Little Rock socialite Willie Oates, who served a term in the state Legislature during the school desegregation crisis, but was best known for her flamboyant hats, died today.  She was 90.

Will Etta Long was born in 1918 in Arkansas City, Kansas, and obtained a bachelor's degree in Spanish and French from the University of Arkansas in 1941, where she was a cheerleader.  She married Little Rock physician Dr. Gordon P. Oates and, in 1959-60, she served in the Arkansas House of Representatives.

Oates' public service moved from government to civic organizations, helping carry the groups' messages through coverage of her in newspaper society pages, where she was a fixture for decades.

Oates had a collection of more than 1,000 hats, which she said added style to her outfits.  She often donated hats to raise money for charity.

Her involvement included the Salvation Army, the Arkansas Medical Society, the Little Rock chapter of the American Association of University Women, and the Arkansas Federation of Women's Clubs.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)