Hundreds remember Billingslea as humble man, successful leader

More than 350 people gathered inside City Auditorium on Saturday to pay their respects to a longtime Macon civic leader.

Albert Billingslea is remembered as one of the first two black men to serve on the Bibb County Commission, owner of a local construction company and a former president of the Macon NAACP chapter.

Billingslea died at his home last Sunday at age 82.

His imprint is seen all over the city and county today, from homes, churches and other structures built by his construction company, to practices he helped implement in his many roles of civic leadership around the area.

“If you look across the entire community, he’s touched a segment of every segment of this community,” said Larry Justice, who served as chairman of the county commission when Billingslea was on the board.

Those in attendance Saturday, however, took the time to remember Billingslea as more than just a public figure. They remembered him as a friend, mentor and family man.

“For all his business success, for all his community service, the one thing more important to Albert over everything else was family,” said County Attorney Virgil Adams, Billingslea’s godson.

Friends spoke of Billingslea’s dedication to his wife of 63 years, Margaret -- whom many affectionately referred to as “Mrs. B.” -- daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members.

“Albert was many things to many people, but he was first and foremost a family man,” said Andy Galloway, a friend of Billingslea. “He was a public servant and civic leader ... he was a successful businessman ... but above all else, a gentleman.”

Having spent several years in public service, Billingslea has directly influenced a number of today’s local representatives.

More than a dozen elected officials attended the funeral service, many expressing the need to carry on Billingslea’s work.

“(Billingslea was) a gentle, humble man who was there to serve the people in an unassuming way and a non-rewarding way,” said State Rep. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch. “We have lost an institution in this community and a terribly good man. I certainly hope we continue his challenge and continue his charge.”

Many colleagues spoke of weekly meetings hosted by Billingslea at his office on Cotton Avenue. Adams said the informal gatherings, known by some as the “Cotton Avenue Mafia,” became the “hub of political change, community action and great influence.”

The group would meet every Friday evening, drawing some of the state’s most well-educated people, politicians and aspiring politicians -- but no matter who showed up, Adams said, the smartest person in the room would always be Billingslea.

“Albert wasn’t about how loud you could talk or how much hell you could raise,” Adams said. “He was about what you were able to get done with reason, knowledge and respect.”

Billingslea never attended college, but used carpentry skills learned during his days at Hudson High School to enter the construction business and later begin Billingslea Construction, which he ran for decades.

He later used the experience gained from the business while serving on the Bibb County Planning & Zoning Board, and as chairman in 1975.

Billingslea served as president of the Macon chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1972 before turning to public office in 1980, when he and Bill Randall became the first black men to be elected to the Bibb County Commission.

He served for 16 years, but his influence and service in area politics spanned his entire life as he passed on wisdom to younger local officials.

Every Friday, Billingslea would remind that group of leaders on Cotton Avenue that there is still much to do in this community, said Commission Chairman Sam Hart.

Adams said that no one -- black or white -- can fill Billingslea’s shoes.

“We have truly lost a great leader -- a quiet, successful leader,” he said. “Some may speculate that there is now a great void in the black leadership. Well, I believe there’s a great void in leadership in this community.”

To continue the change that Billingslea spent much of his life instilling in the community, Adams said the weekly meetings on Cotton Avenue will live on as a part of Billingslea’s legacy.

“Same time. Same place,” he said.

Billingslea was laid to rest at Middle Georgia Memory Gardens.

To contact writer Caryn Grant, call 744-4347.