Billy Kingery ’54 moves with an athlete’s grace through his Roanoke County home—no surprise, considering he is one. At 90, Kingery is as fit and agile as someone several decades younger, and he credits the discipline he learned at VMI for helping him stay in the game of tennis at an age when most players have long hung up their racquets.
In recent years, accolades have been increasing, not decreasing, for Kingery: In August 2022, he placed fourth in singles in his age group at the USTA National Grass Court Championship, held at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston, Massachusetts. Two months later, he bettered that performance, earning first place in his age group at the USTA National Clay Court Championship, held in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. And much closer to home, he was inducted into the Roanoke Regional Tennis Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Roanoke Country Club Sept. 10, 2022.
These accomplishments would be admirable for anyone, but for Kingery, they’re even more so: While he’d played tennis all his life, including during his time at VMI, he didn’t make his debut on the national level until he was in his 50s. Now ranked No. 4 in the nation in his age group, Kingery is having far too much fun to think of slowing down.
“It’s just the love of the game,” said Kingery in explaining his long tenure with the sport. “It’s a wonderful game, and you meet a lot of wonderful people.”
Thanks to Kingery’s longtime involvement with the sport, there’s even an award bearing his name. The Kingery Cup is given by the Roanoke Country Club to the winner of its singles ladder each year in honor of Kingery’s 50 years of running senior tournaments in Virginia and the mid-Atlantic. On three occasions, he’s been named tournament director of the year.
With characteristic modesty, Kingery emphasizes what the Kingery Cup competition does for others.
“This play is so productive in skill levels improving, but more important in social [activity] and friendships that are formed,” he said. “It’s fun.”
Of course, staying in the game into one’s nonagenarian years requires not only passion but a willingness to undergo some serious bodily upkeep. In his late 60s and early 70s, Kingery sought out sports medicine specialists and had both knees and one shoulder replaced.
Afterward, he used the habit of discipline from his cadet days to do physical therapy and get back to doing what he enjoys, with less than two months off the courts each time.
“[VMI] helped me so much with never giving up and continuing to fight,” he noted.
Kingery’s journey to the Institute—and to some of the nation’s top tennis courts—began in his native Roanoke. After graduating from Jefferson High School, he turned down a possible appointment to the United States Military Academy to attend VMI, where he wrestled, was a member of the tennis team, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. Financially, he was supported by a state cadetship during his rat year and then received assistance from Abney Boxley, Class of 1925, during the remainder of his cadetship. With help from these sources, Kingery became the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
Returning to Roanoke after three years of service in the U.S. Air Force, Kingery began his career working for Virginia Prestressed Concrete, where he became general manager, before moving on to the position he would hold for the next 33 years: Sales representative at Carter Machinery. All the while, he was playing tennis at the Roanoke Country Club, just as he does today—except today, he’s playing six or seven days a week and on an indoor court in bad weather.
And while Kingery is competitive—he’d be the first to tell you that he’s out to win—one thing he won’t do is win at all costs. That’s not the VMI way.
“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 stated. “But it wasn’t ‘win at all costs.’ Character and values mean so much, and today, we don’t hear that. … One of the things VMI teaches you is to help other people in your journey.”
As a way of helping others just as he was once helped, Kingery and his wife, Shirley, have established the Mr. and Mrs. Billy W. Kingery 1954 Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a cadet in need of financial assistance, regardless of academic major or state of residence. The Kingerys are also members of the George C. Marshall Order, the Institute Society, and the Washington Arch Society.
Giving back, after all, comes naturally when it’s easy to see the benefits. “VMI teaches you to respect other people, and it makes you believe in yourself and have self-confidence in what you’re doing,” Kingery stated. “I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t gone to VMI.”
Mary Price Development Writer/Communications Specialist
The development writer plays a key role in producing advancement communications. This role imagines, creates, and produces a variety of written communication to inspire donors to make gifts benefiting VMI. Utilizing journalistic features and storytelling, the development writer will produce content for areas such as Annual Giving, stewardship, and gift planning.