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Veteran TV photographer remembered for keeping his lens on the ball

DAVID PURDY/SUN HERALD/FILE PHOTO 
 
 WLOX photographer Rodney Billingsley, left, and Sun Herald photographer Tim Isbell man the sidelines at a New Orleans Saints game at the Superdome. Billingsley worked at WLOX for more than 30 years. He died Monday, May 30, 2016, from lung cancer.
DAVID PURDY/SUN HERALD/FILE PHOTO WLOX photographer Rodney Billingsley, left, and Sun Herald photographer Tim Isbell man the sidelines at a New Orleans Saints game at the Superdome. Billingsley worked at WLOX for more than 30 years. He died Monday, May 30, 2016, from lung cancer.

No one could follow a ball like Rodney Billingsley.

The sports photographer for WLOX television was known for his camera work that always caught the highlights of the sporting event he covered.

Billingsley died Monday, two months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 55.

He will most be remembered as the man behind the camera for 30 years.

"He could do anything," said Natalie Campen, a longtime friend and co-worker. "He and Brad (Kessie) took me to dinner while I was settling in when I first got here.

"He is one of my first friends here."

Highlight reels

Whether it was a high school football game or the Super Bowl, Billingsley for more than 30 years captured highlight-reel moments for South Mississippi viewers of WLOX.

"We worked together, but we also traveled together," said Kessie, who is now news director. He recalled a baseball road trip the pair took to see games at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Camden Yards. They were trying to do it on the cheap.

"We were leaving New York at 4 a.m. and had to go to the airport to pick up our rental," Kessie said. "We didn't want to get a cab because it would cost too much, so here we are in Times Square with our luggage, feeling like we had neon signs above our heads saying "Mug us! Mug us!" as we walk to Grand Central Station.

"At one point as we came out of the subway, Rodney says, 'Why the hell didn't we just take a cab?'"

A.J. Giardina, long-time sports anchor for the TV station who worked closely with Billingsley, said no one could follow the action like him.

Michael Magandy, convention services manager at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, worked with Billingsley in different capacities with video. They had known each other since the 1980s.

"He was one of the best hand-held camera guys in this area," Magandy said. He worked as an independent contractor for all the major networks, HBO, Showtime, ESPN, CBS and Fox on events they needed covered in the region.

"For years, we'd tell him you need to get into freelance," Magandy said. "We'd tell him, 'You're 10 times better than these guys we see when we go out.'"

There were four locals working that scene, including Magandy and Billingsley.

"They called us the Gulf Coast crew," Magandy said. "They would bring in the big guys and still need local guys. We'd get called."

Second to none

Billingsley was hired at WLOX when the station decided to hire a full-time sports photographer, Giardina wrote in a Facebook tribute. "Rodney was a premier sports cameraman. Second to none."

Campen said when football season comes back around this fall, South Mississippi will miss his highlights.

"No one could follow a ball like Rodney," she said.

Campen said she will also miss Billingsley's smile and bright eyes.

"Even on the worst days, he could make you smile," she said. "I can't explain it, but he was the type of person that made us better every day."

Kessie said Billingsley was the type of person who always wanted the best for everyone else.

"He had the best spirit," Kessie said. "We are a much weaker television station today because we don't have Rodney."

Billingsley leaves behind a wife of 16 years, Nadine, stepchildren and grandchildren.

Karen Nelson, Sun Herald staff writer, contributed to this report.

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