A direct descendent of the Mayflower, Bob was born in Pawtucket. He developed an interest in history from the destinations of his family’s summer trips. Although he loved these experiences, he wondered why Rhode Island was not known for its stories.
He joined the Coast Guard serving aboard the USCGC Vigorous and working on two International Ice Patrols. After the military, he joined his family’s manufacturing business on the Blackstone River. He graduated from Johnson & Wales University and then obtained his doctorate there in order to help shape the future of tourism. As an adjunct Professor at Boston University, Bristol Community College, Johnson and Wales University and Lasell College, Billington inspires the minds of the young. In 1985 Bob founded the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. He has directed sustainable tourism development in the Blackstone Valley creating numerous partnerships. The Tourism Council defines itself as an organization that unveils and develops the resources in nine American Industrial Revolution communities by incorporating their history, culture, nature, and commercial resources.
Billington has served as a commissioner with the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission. He led the creation of the Blackstone River Watershed Council, Water Cruises of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame and the Cumberland Historic District Commission. As past chairman of the Old Slater Mill Association, he led the effort to create the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.
With his tourism agency, he has received several international recognitions – the Tourism for Tomorrow Award from the World Travel and Tourism Council; The Phoenix Award from the Society of American Travel Writers; and The Ulysses Prize from the United Nations World Tourism Organization. He also received the Person of the Year designation from World Travel Awards. The Tourism Council was Certified by the United Nations World Tourism Organization–the first tourism agency in the world to achieve this status.
The Blackstone River’s development has been Billington’s priority. He oversaw construction of five riverboats – the Blackstone Valley Explorer; two ferryboats, the Hope and the Renaissance; and an English canal boat, Samuel Slater.
The Tourism Council presents The Polar Express Train Ride where Bob is the conductor. He also founded the Sustainable Tourism Laboratory from which Chocolate Mills Overlook Park in Central Falls was built.
“What has been accomplished in tourism in the Blackstone Valley was powered by the Council’s board and staff ” according to Bob. His son, Ryan, a commander in the Navy and executive officer on the USS Howard, and his daughter, Sarah, a segment producer with the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, enable him to enjoy four grandchildren. Bob resides with his dearest Debbie in a restored 200 year-old, former thread factory on the Blackstone River in Central Falls.