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Tennis great Billie Jean King's mother dies in Arizona

By Laila Kearney

(Reuters) - The mother of American tennis great Billie Jean King, who stayed near her ailing parent rather than join an official U.S. delegation attending the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, died on Friday at her home in Arizona, King's spokesman said.

Betty Moffitt, 91, died in Prescott with her two children at her side, publicist Tip Nunn said in a statement. There was no immediate word on the cause of death.

Moffitt, who was born in the hard-scrabble oil-drilling town of Taft, California, raised King and son Randy Moffitt in nearby San Bernardino. She moved to Prescott, about 100 miles northwest of Phoenix, 27 years ago. Her husband of 65 years, Bill Moffitt, died in 2006.

The family has planned private funeral services.

King, who won dozens of major titles over her career, played a major role in gaining recognition and respect for women's tennis.

She was one of three openly gay U.S. athletes appointed by President Barack Obama to a special U.S. delegation, along with skating champion Brian Boitano and ice hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow, sent to the opening Olympic ceremonies in Sochi.

But the White House announced on Wednesday that King would be unable to attend the event due to her mother's failing health.

Obama has said the inclusion of King, Boitano and Cahow in the U.S. Olympics delegation was intended to send a bold statement against anti-gay laws that have been enacted in Russia with the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Steve Gorman and Leslie Adler)

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