James R. Billingsley, who as chief regulatory counsel led AT&T through the cellular and antitrust negotiations with the federal government, died on June 25, 2019 at his home in Rye, N.Y.
Born in Rome, Georgia in 1927, he helped support his family during the Great Depression, starting with a paper route when he was 7. His family was too poor to afford a bicycle, so he covered the route on foot. He continued to work through his teen-age years and eventually became his family’s primary source of income when he took over management of the Kessler Air Force post exchange in Biloxi, Mississippi.
In high school, he was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” and his yearbook photo caption read “No Coward Soul is Mine”. After high school, he entered the Army Specialized Training Program at the University of Mississippi and then New York University, where he studied electrical engineering. During the Second World War, he was a Sergeant in the United States Army. From 1950 to 1965, he was a major in the United Air Force Reserve. After his honorable discharge, Mr. Billingsley studied law at the University of Mississippi under the GI Bill of Rights, receiving his Juris Doctorate in 1950.
Mr. Billingsley began his 33-year long career with the Bell System in 1956 in the Western Electric Company Legal Department.
He married Helen “Lee” Brown in 1958. The couple had been introduced by Ms. Brown’s father, Walter L. Brown, then the General Counsel for Western Electric.
In 1960, he moved to New York Telephone as a patent attorney, and in 1970 became Vice President, Revenues. In 1973, he returned to Western Electric as Vice President, Regulatory Matters and became an AT&T senior officer the following year, a position he held until his 1989 retirement as Senior Vice President, Federal Regulatory Matters.
During his tenure with AT&T, Mr. Billingsley obtained FCC approval to offer the Advanced Mobile Phone Service, the technological precursor to today’s cellular communications networks. He also convinced the FCC to allow AT&T to enter new markets through a separate, largely unregulated subsidiary. He represented AT&T in negotiations with the FCC that established the framework for regulating the telecommunications industry following the1982 consent decree that broke up the Bell System into seven regional baby bells.
Mr. Billingsley retired from AT&T in 1990 and devoted his time to his family and enjoyed travel. He stayed involved in the telecommunications field through investments.
An active community member in his 55 years in Rye, Mr. Billingsley served on the boards of the Rye Free Reading Room and United Hospital and was a governor of Manursing Island Club and a trustee of Salisbury School. For over 40 years, he was a trustee, vice president, and treasurer of the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation, which supports marine research and education.
Full of warmth and kindness, Jim Billingsley graced those around him with his intelligence, honesty, and wit. He encouraged in his family a curiosity and interest in the world, as well as the need to be able to look at things with a sense of humor. He never missed a moment to laugh and be silly with friends and family alike, or to remind those around him how grateful he was to have them there. He never hesitated to express his love, appreciation, and support for his family, and was active in the lives of his children and eight grandchildren; skiing in Vermont and Colorado, sailing the Caribbean and Long Island Sound, going to baseball, football, and lacrosse games, dance performances, and school events.
His wife Lee survives him, as do their two sons, Jim and John, a daughter, Ann, and eight grandchildren. Another son, Walter, predeceased him.
A memorial service will be held August 3 at 10 a.m. at Rye Presbyterian Church.
Donations in James Billingsley’s memory may be made to The University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655.