Billy D. Robbins

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PONTOTOC – Billy D. Robbins, age 82, died March 9, 2014, at 5:30 a.m. He was born in 1931 in the Hurricane community. He was preceded in death by his parents, Ninnie Mae and D.D. (John) Robbins; and by his sister, Mary Jo Roye, all of Pontotoc County. Billy was a member of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church and a Mason with the Pontotoc Masonic Lodge No. 81. He earned a music business degree from Memphis State University.
When he was only four years old, the first airplane he saw on the ground had crashed and killed three of his cousins and the pilot, Dean Faulkner, brother of the writer William. The gory sight seemed to guide his destiny as he spent his adult lifetime trying to enhance the safety of flying. He was a four-year Veteran of the U.S. Air Force and 36 years with the federal government, all the work associated with air traffic control. He worked in California, England, Memphis, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Miami, Jacksonville, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., and Honolulu.
As a controller, he earned the highest honors that the Federal Aviation Administration awards members of the profession. The one of which he was most proud was a Letter of Commendation for saving the life of Capt. Gus Grissom, one of the seven original astronauts, and the jet fighter aircraft in which he had received a lightning strike. Thunderstorms were prevalent all over the Southeastern part of the United States. Grissom was flying from Houston, Texas, to USAF Base near the missile launching pad in Florida. All the jet's normal radio and navigational equipment had been knocked out. The only things still working were an emergency frequency battery powered radio and a transponder, which is a device that enhances the aircraft's radar target. All the air traffic control radar had been knocked off the air except an antiquated World War II radar system not designed for guiding aircraft to a runway. Working as a controller with that old radar in Miami at the time, Billy found him and gave him guidance instructions to the runway at Patrick Air Force Base, near Cape Kennedy.
When Grissom broke out of the clouds and landed, he phoned to thank the Miami air traffic control facility where Billy worked and said he only had to make about a two degree correction to land on the runway. Later, the FAA administrator flew to Miami to meet Billy and advised him that his action had brought more favorable publicity to the FAA than had any previous air traffic control accomplishment.
As he described in a book he recently authored entitled ""AIR COPS,"" his activities didn't always come out so rosy.
For eight years, he coordinated the implementation of computers in air traffic control. After he retired from the FAA as supervisory air traffic controller in Memphis, the air traffic controllers went out on an illegal strike, and President Reagan fired about 14,000 of them. Billy came back out of retirement to teach air traffic control at the University of Oklahoma and computer programming at the FAA's Academy in Oklahoma City. He authored curricula for both, which are still in use.
In 1985 he contracted with the Computer Sciences Corporation as a computer scientist/chief software engineer. The FAA was purchasing newer computers to replace the ones he had helped install in the 1960s. After orientation on use of the more modern automation equipment, he instructed controllers in ATC facilities on the use of the new devices.
As a sideline, Billy was a musician, music business manager, singer, and songwriter. Preliminary plans are for a gospel song he wrote, ""My Soul Shall Live Eternally,"" to be sung at the funeral. He and his first wife Robbie, now of Florence, Ala., have four children, all of whom are musically inclined, as are most of their grandchildren. He enjoyed coaching little league, hunting quail, wild turkey, and deer, fishing, and particularly shrimping and snorkeling for lobster.
Billy is survived by the four children: daughter, Judy Rodman (John) of the Nashville, Tenn., area, daughter, Beki Ferguson (Dr. Charlie) of Florence, Ala., daughter, Pamela Hubbard (Dr. James Robert) of Colorado Springs, Colo., and son, Billy D. Robbins, Jr. (Tammy) of the Nashville, Tenn., area; as well as 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his younger sister, Sandra Guyton of Pontotoc; and he leaves his ex-wife, who was originally Robbie Roberts, from Algoma.
Services will be 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at Browning Funeral Home in Pontotoc with the Rev. Fred Hartley officiating; burial will follow in the Pleasant Grove Cemetery. Browning Funeral Home in Pontotoc is in charge of arrangements.
Pallbearers will be Billy D. Robbins Jr., Scott Ferguson, David Hall, Greg Hall, David Hendrix and Benny Ruth.
Visitation will be from 11 to 2 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral home.
Published in Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on Mar. 10, 2014
Billy D. Robbins
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Arrangements under the direction of:
Browning Funeral Home
141 West Oxford Street | Pontotoc, MS 38863 | (662) 489-4141
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