Robert Billingslea, a longtime executive with Disney who helped bring the Florida Classic game to Orlando, has passed at the age of 79. Billingslea was instrumental in bringing Walt Disney World to Orlando, and used his time to mentor young and rising Black executives,
Billingslea was born December 20, 1927 in Youngstown, Ohio, a musical prodigy who eventually graduated from Kent State University in 1964 with a degree in sociology while toying with a musical career. He joined Disneyland in California which then morphed into working in Orlando for the parent company.
Over time, Billingslea became the director of Urban Affairs for the Walt Disney Company, focusing his efforts on promoting and catering to the minority community.
In his four-plus decades at Disney, Billingslea established the annual Florida Classic game between vaunted HBCUs Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University, with Disney becoming a top sponsor. In the mid-eighties, Billingslea aligned himself with the NAACP and worked on programs to bring diversity and better employment practices to Disney.
Billingslea retired in 2012 after 42 years at Disney, He was responsible for connecting the company with the aforementioned NAACP, 100 Black Men, UNCF and other like-minded organizations. According to a report from the Orlando Sentinel the veteran executive was especially proud of his heritage and used his influence to help several others.
This year, Bethune-Cookman named its hospitality management school after Billingsea, after he pushed for such a school in the region. It opened its doors in 1986.
Billingslea is survived by his wife Deidre, and their son, Robert Billingslea Jr., two grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
PHOTO: Promotional/Fair Use
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