Spotlight on Thomas Jefferson Award Winner: Carol Billingsley

Carol Billingsley, System Director, Public Relations & Communications at Bon Secours Mercy Health, is this year’s winner of the Thomas Jefferson Award for Excellence, which recognizes the achievement of a seasoned public relations practitioner who has made an ongoing commitment to the advancement of the profession.

Q: Describe what receiving the Thomas Jefferson Award means to you.

Receiving this award has been a tremendous honor. I was so surprised when the announcement team came to my house to share the exciting news. Once it began to sink in, I realized it is a priceless and beautiful gift because it led me to pause and reflect on the people, places and experiences that have mattered the most in my career. I saw a common thread of people who are honorable, people who work hard and strive for excellence every day and organizations that live their values. 

Q: When you look back on your career, is there a particular highlight or definitive moment that comes to mind? Feel free to share a few.

For a large portion of my career I was a generalist, handling marketing, branding, advertising, PR, digital, etc. It wasn’t until the later half of my career that I was afforded the opportunity to specialize in public relations and communications. While my true passion is PR and communications, I think that broad experience earlier in my career helped me to be a better PR practitioner than I would have been otherwise. 

Q: We’re sure a number of people look up to you as a mentor. Who do you consider to be your mentor, and why?

Our Richmond PRSA Chapter is full of mentors. I think we are a special community because we lift each other up by sharing our knowledge, experiences and opportunities as often as we can. 

In addition to our chapter, my synchronized swimming coach at Ohio State University, the late Mary Jo Ruggieri, shaped every aspect of my life – profoundly. I learned team work, collaboration, not worrying about who gets credit, leaving it on the field every day, how to grow and be stronger through loss and challenges, how to develop my inner drive, how to stand up for myself and find my voice, how to respect and value differences and how to have a lot of fun throughout any journey. 

Libby Brown, co-founder of This End Up Furniture Co. was another significant role model in my life. Libby invested a lot of time in me at an important period in my career. Through Libby, I learned many things. Some highlights include, how to develop and mentor teams, how to make solid business decisions and how to recruit and hire talented people who are a cultural fit for your organization. 

Q: In your mind, what are the benefits of PRSA Richmond to the Richmond PR community?

I think we exemplify the best of RVA. We are a creative community that seeks continual growth and learning while making sure our efforts and contributions are undergirded by ethical decisions, actions and conduct.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am humbled to join the men and women who have received this award in previous years.