Franklin man named Rotarian of the Year

Published 9:55 am Friday, May 16, 2014

Bill Billings, left, receiving the E.R.M. (Mac) Coker Rotarian of the Year Award from Franklin Rotary Club President, Dr. Dylan Belt. -- SUBMITTED

Bill Billings, left, receiving the E.R.M. (Mac) Coker Rotarian of the Year Award from Franklin Rotary Club President, Dr. Dylan Belt. — SUBMITTED

FRANKLIN—Bill Billings acknowledged that he was still taken aback when fellow local Rotarians recently named him as the E.R.M. “Mac” Coker Rotarian of the Year. The recognition took place during the Franklin club’s annual Charter and Partners Night at the Village at Woods Edge.

“I was surprised,” Billings said. “I had figured I had been nominated when Patsy Joyner was asking me questions. I was suspicious of that. There are gung-ho Rotarians who are really doing an outstanding job in our club, so I didn’t think it was as slam dunk.”

The honor is especially significant to him.

“I was very emotional because it was named for Mac,” Billings said. “I had known him for many, many, many years in Rotary. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. It was a little bit of an emotional time for me.”

The award annually recognizes a Rotarian who through his/her Rotary service has made significant contributions to Rotary and the community in the form of leadership or in the advancement of ideas and service.

Billings, 69, said he got his start in Rotary by becoming a founding charter member of the North Suffolk Rotary Club in 1976. His boss at Vi-Tex in Suffolk was already a member of the club in the city. Looking for a speaker at a meeting, he turned to Billings.

“I was working for Vi-Tex as a packaging manager and I talked about what we did. I had some fun, and pulled out samples with dollar bills stuck to press sheets. At that time Suffolk wanted to start another chapter, and I was asked to join. I said ‘Sure.’ So I signed up to a member of the new club. I really joined for the networking when I was a young guy.”

After leaving the company to work at Union Camp, he then joined the Franklin Rotary Club, which was established in 1924. Part of the recent program was the celebration of the local chapter’s 90th anniversary.

“I really took off in Rotary,” he said. “What I found is that Rotary gives me an opportunity to put service above self, but also to actually make a difference in the world.

“One of the biggest projects that Rotary has undertaken is eradicating polio, which is 99.50 percent gone. It’s astounding how much work has gone into that. Inoculations and the Bill Gates Foundation have helped. It makes me feel good that I can make a difference.”

He said the most exciting thing for him has been the building of a suspension bridge for pedestrians over the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia back in November 2009.

During the 35 years that Billings has been with the Franklin group, he’s served in many capacities. He served as president from 2008-2009 while battling thyroid cancer. With an inimitable sense of humor and upbeat attitude, he provided email updates on “Myroid the Thyroid.” At the end of his presidency, he received the first and only “Just My Bill” Award in appreciation for making Rotary more fun and members more dedicated. He has served Area 10 for three years as assistant district governor and this year as governor.

Proud to be a Rotarian, he wears his Rotary pin every day; he has a Rotary license plate; and he involves his wife in his myriad Rotary activities.

His active roles include board member; resident photographer; membership recruiter; informal mentor to new members; and cheerleader. He instituted the club’s weekly reciting of the Four Way Test, the weekly Rotary Minute, and the correct way of saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Billings is a charter and sustaining member (and the Franklin Club’s only member) of the Paul Harris Society. He is also a Paul Harris plus 8 and will be a plus 9 by the end of the year, putting him close to being a Foundation Major Donor. The club receives credit for his annual $1,000 donation to the society.

Dr. Patsy Joyner contributed to this story.