By Sallie James
BOCA RATON — Boca Raton philanthropist and shoe industry legend Robert “Bobby” Campbell, who pioneered the design for kids’ shoes embedded with little lights, died on Feb. 17 after a lengthy illness. The founder, chairman and CEO of BBC International was 82.
Raised in Pittsburgh by a single mother, Mr. Campbell grew up poor but determined to succeed. At age 15, when his family moved to Detroit, he took a job at a Kinney Shoes store, launching what would become an amazing career in the footwear industry.
He started work as a stock boy and then sold shoes. After graduating from high school, he went to work full-time for the company, working his way up to manager for all Kinney Shoes stores. Then, after nine years of “not enjoying the corporate structure,” Mr. Campbell left in 1975 to start his own company, BBC International, building the business into a worldwide leader in the children’s shoe market.
The company took off in 1991 when he partnered with LA Gear and produced a wildly popular line of lighted footwear called LA Lights. The shoes remain beloved today. According to Footwear News, the LA Lights franchise sold 10 million pairs in the first year alone.
In 1998, Mr. Campbell moved his company to Boca Raton, then turned his sights on helping others. Among his legacies: a $5 million donation to Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt Family Complex for Academic and Athletic Excellence to benefit student athletes and a $1.2 million donation to Lynn University to help build a new stadium for the school’s Fighting Knights soccer teams. The facility was named Bobby Campbell Stadium in his honor.
In January, the Rotary Club of Boca Raton presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his philanthropic acts.
In November 2018, the Rotary Club Downtown Boca Raton presented him with the George Long Award for community service at the Boca Raton Mayor’s Ball, said Jon Kaye, one of the club’s founding members.
Mr. Campbell received an honorary degree from FAU in May 2017, and in 2013, he was honored by the Boca Raton Rotary Club with one of five Outstanding People and Leader Awards for his philanthropic actions in the community.
Mr. Campbell was “very involved in the community since he came here more than 20 years ago. He has contributed through generosity and participation,” Kaye said. “He just was in it to win it with the community. This is a man who always had a smile on his face. He never said ‘no’ as far as I know.”
Mr. Campbell simply made Boca better, Kaye said. “We want to honor people who put Boca in a positive light and to show off what a great place it is. He contributed to making it a great place. He was an exceptional individual.”
Mr. Campbell told The Coastal Star in 2013 he felt fortunate to have achieved such success and wanted to help others who needed assistance.
“I kept going up, and I was a very lucky guy to go up the ladder, and then I realized that it’s better to give back a little bit than to just receive,” Mr. Campbell said.
Kaye remembered Mr. Campbell as an upbeat, happy guy with a love for pretty women.
“He was a real flirtatious guy. He always loved to be around pretty women,” Kaye chuckled. “He was just a real gentleman.”
His executive assistant Michele Scott described him as a fun-loving person who enjoyed sports and adored his family.
“My sports buddy!!! Monday mornings always started with a recap of the weekend sports highlights,” Scott wrote in a tribute. “We went to many local dinner and cocktail parties supporting the community. We talked about his family, my family, shoes, philanthropy and more. Such a fun guy! Fair, honest and straight to the point. I’m gonna miss that. What an amazing leader he was.”
Mr. Campbell is survived by his wife, Barbara Zangrilli, children Robert Campbell Jr., Dana Campbell and Seth Campbell, and five grandchildren. Services were held in New York City on Feb. 21.