Published On: Wed, Feb 19th, 2020

‘Bobby’ Campbell, Boca philanthropist, footwear icon, dies at 82

By Dale King

Robert “Bobby” Campbell, a generous Boca Raton philanthropist who parlayed a part-time job in a shoe store into a global footwear enterprise, has died, barely a month after he was honored by the Rotary Club of Boca Raton for his beneficence and work ethic. He was 82.

The man everyone knew as Bobby, even in his elder years, passed away Feb. 17. One of his last public appearances was at the Rotary Club of Boca Raton’s OPAL (Outstanding People and Leaders) Gala Jan. 18. He was its honorary chairman, an OPAL Award recipient and had been presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Boca Rotary. Read the story clicking here.

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.  

Mr. Campbell was interviewed for an article in the Boca Raton Tribune in January 2014. “As a child, growing up in Pittsburgh with his mother and three sisters, the idea of owning a multi-million dollar company was far from Robert’s mind,” the article says. “For six years, they lived in the attic of his grandmother’s house while his mother worked at his grandpa’s bakery – the same bakery where Robert started working at the age of 9.” 

In the story, Robert said: “My mother did nothing but work hard; she was amazing and taught us all about respect and ethics, and raised us in a good Christian family.”  Read the full interview clicking here.

After his mother remarried, Robert and his family moved to Detroit when he was 15 years old. During his junior year at Cass Tech, he started working part-time at a local Kinney Shoe store, where his career started. 

“Robert was quickly promoted to store manager, and, later, regional buyer doing special purchases for Kinney. By 1963, Bob became a buyer for F.W. Woolworth, Kinney’s parent company at the time.

In 1975, he founded BBC International, described as “one of the leading children’s and athletic footwear design and sourcing companies in the world.”

“He started by himself, with only one secretary and a few good people who were a great help in encouraging Bob, and are considered mentors to him. One of those was Cam Anderson – founder of Footlocker. “I worked directly with him in Chicago and every time I needed help with anything, he was there for me.” 

“My only ambition was to work hard, get ahead, and I knew it would pay off,” said the budding shoe maven. “I just always felt confident about that; I was never afraid of failure.” 

2018 Boca Raton Mayors Ball Co-Chairs and Committee
Photo credit: Gina Fontana

This same confidence made him such an important part of the Boca community. He moved the headquarters of BBC to Boca in 1988 and turned his attention to local community work.

He has been involved in several charities and organizations, among them, the Boca Historical Society and Museum where he helped establish its annual Boca Raton Bacchanal fundraiser. He has also served the Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation, the ARC of Palm Beach County and he was a member of the boards of Little Flower Children and Family Services and the American Heart Association. 

Mr. Campbell was on the executive boards of both the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America and the Two Ten Footwear Foundation, and was past president of both.

In recent years, he and his wife presented $5 million to the Florida Atlantic University Schmidt Family Complex to help student athletes. He is also remembered at Lynn University with the Bobby Campbell Stadium, home to the school’s soccer and  lacrosse programs. Read more about this clicking here.

In 2017, the Boca contributor and business leader received an honorary doctorate degree from FAU. 

In the Tribune interview, Mr. Campbell’s advice to young entrepreneurs was simple: “Work hard, have a goal, and don’t complain!”  

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