Boca benefactor, footwear legend ‘Bobby’ Campbell passes away at 82

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By: Dale King

Robert “Bobby” Campbell was a hard worker all his life. He got his first job at age 9 in his grandfather’s bakery downstairs from his family’s apartment in his native Pittsburgh. In high school, Bobby took a part-time job in a Kinney Shoe store in Detroit, where he moved with his family at age 15.

Bobby turned the shoe trade into his life’s work, soaring to the top of the entrepreneurial world and founding BBC International in 1975, a firm which became one of the leading footwear design and sourcing companies in the world, specializing in shoes for children and athletes. 

When he moved the headquarters of BBC to Boca Raton in 1998, Mr. Campbell became a noted local philanthropist, recognized for his abiding generosity, his infectious sense of humor, love of community and desire to help various organizations and charities.

On Feb. 17, 2020, a month almost to the day after he was honored at a Rotary Club of Boca Raton Gala for his business acumen and all-encompassing roster of donations, ‘Bobby’ Campbell passed away at age 82.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara Zangrilli, children Robert Campbell Jr., Dana Campbell and Seth Campbell and five grandchildren.

A viewing will be held Friday, Feb. 21 at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home in New York City, from 3-5 p.m. and from 7-9 p.m.  A funeral Mass will follow on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 10 a.m. at St. Ignatius Loyola Church, 980 Park Ave. at 84th St., New York City. 

“Bobby Campbell has been a genuine supporter of so many organizations in the city of Boca Raton,” says Mr. Campbell’s biography in the Rotary Club’s program for its 2020 OPAL (Outstanding People and Leaders) Gala. He was on the board of the Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation, the Boca Raton Historical Society and the ARC of Palm Beach County, as well as the boards of Little Flower Children and Family Services and the American Heart Association. Mr. Campbell also served on the executive boards of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America and the Two Ten Footwear Foundation, and was past president of both.

Before arriving in Boca Raton, he made an indelible mark in the shoe industry. He is listed in footwear’s top 100 “Power Players” and was inducted into the Footwear Hall of Fame in 2003.

Once he reached Boca Raton, he became a familiar face, though he didn’t seek fame. He donated money to restore the Historical Society’s two 1940s-era railroad cars and gifted Florida Atlantic University with $5 million to help student athletes in the Schmidt Family Complex for Academic and Athletic Excellence.

He has also been a major supporter of Lynn University in Boca Raton, contributing $1.2 million to help pay for the Bobby Campbell Stadium, home to the school’s soccer and lacrosse teams. 

Perhaps the most emotional tribute to Mr. Campbell came just a month before his death. He was seated at a table across from the podium at the Rotary OPAL Gala Jan. 18 when Rotarian and event co-chair Neil Saffer offered a testament to the longtime benefactor. 

“Bobby Campbell motivates and inspires,” said Saffer. “In the 20-plus years I have known him, never once did I ask him for anything. He sees a need and he fills it.”

Saffer, accompanied by the event’s two other co-chairs, Jan Savarick and Spencer Siegel, walked over to the table and applauded the benefactor, his family and guests.

The crowd stood and applauded loudly for Mr. Campbell. Saffer noted that Bobby and Barbara Campbell have committed $100,000 to the Rotary’s scholarship program.