Roanoke native Billy W. Kingery (Beta Commission–VMI ’54) won the 90-and-over men’s clay-court title at the USTA national championships in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in October 2022.
Kingery did not come from a tennis background. His main sport at the Virginia Military Institute was wrestling, and he was on teams that finished second in the Southern Conference.
“They had a tennis team and it was really good,” Kingery shared in a recent interview. “I played [number] seven or eight on that team, so I really didn’t play much tennis at all.”
After graduation from VMI, Kingery joined the U.S. Air Force.
“When I got out of the Air Force after five years, there was a real market for jet pilots,” he said. “I was in the reserves down in Richmond, flying on the weekends and we were getting flight plans. I enjoyed flying but was ready to do something else.”
Kingery then went to Roanoke to work at Carter Machinery for 33 years, working his way up to general manager before retiring in 1998.
It was in his 40s when Kingery says that his tennis started to take off noting that the competitiveness was appealing. He would go on to be ranked number one in the entire commonwealth at some point in every division from age 65 to 70, 75, 80, and 85.
“At VMI, playing tennis and wrestling, and in the business I was in, it was always one-on-one. It was not a team concept,” he said. “But it wasn’t win at all costs. Character and values mean so much.”
At 90, he still plays five or six times a week, even competing against players decades his junior when many others his age would have already hung up their racquets.
“We’ve got a ladder at Roanoke Country Club with 26 or 28 guys,” Kingery commented. “And they’re all 30 or 40 years younger than I am and I play singles against them. I can’t beat hardly any of them but I get to play them.”
Kingery, who has been inducted into the Roanoke Regional Tennis Hall of Fame, was ranked nationally before going to Florida, and he hopes to get as high as number 5 or 6 in his age group.
Kingery and his wife, Shirley, have established the Mr. and Mrs. Billy W. Kingery 1954 Scholarship, which is awarded annually to the cadet in need of financial assistance, regardless of academic major or state of residence.