Bilyak Recalled as 'Visionary Leader'
Jim Bilyak, who served as president of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce for more than a decade and was known as a “visionary leader,” died Wednesday.
Bilyak, 70, died at his home, with family and friends by his side, said his wife, Lilli.
“I know what I feel for him in my heart,” she said Friday. “It is just hard for me to put it into words. He was a wonderful person, a real one-of-a-kind. He brought people together and made things happen that others just can’t.”
During his 12 years as head of the Chamber, Bilyak was known as an innovator and forward-thinker who pushed for improving public education, economic development and land-use planning.
A former fifth-grade schoolteacher, Bilyak got involved in Chamber work at the urging of a friend when he lived in Connecticut, his wife said.
After stints in Connecticut and Tennessee, Bilyak was hired as president and chief executive officer of what was then the Sandhills Area Chamber of Commerce in December 1990.
He served in that capacity until he retired Dec. 31, 2002. He cited health concerns in his resignation letter.
“When he was recruited here, I heard it it was a real coup, a real step forward for the area,” said Patrick Coughlin, the current president and CEO of the Chamber.
Coughlin called Bilyak a “visionary leader,” who was a staunch advocate for education and business. He recalled the lasting impression Bilyak made on him when the two first met more than a decade ago.
“He was very clearly an accomplished professional,” Coughlin said. “He had the respect of the people that I respected.”
During his tenure, Bilyak made education a top priority. He worked to promote academic excellence in the Moore County public schools and rallied the business community to support those efforts.
Linda Pearson, now executive director of the United Way of Moore County, worked with Bilyak for nearly a decade. She served as vice president of member services from 1995 to 2002.
She called him a thinking man who knew Chamber business very well.
“When he was there, the Chamber was at the forefront of making things happen,” Pearson said.
Bilyak served on numerous education-related boards during his tenure with the Chamber, including the Sandhills Community College Board of Trustees, the Blue Ribbon Facilities Committee for Moore County Schools and the Moore County Commissioners’ Education Advisory Commit-tee.
He was also a leading advocate for the JobReady program in Moore County.
Bilyak played a key role in having the Chamber take control of the county’s public-private economic development initiative, Partners In Progress. That move helped raise awareness of the importance of economic development in Moore County. That is now a totally separate entity from the Chamber.
Under Bilyak’s leadership, the Chamber earned numerous awards and recognition, including the prestigious designation of being accredited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
He help initiate or expand several programs and services for members, including Taste of Moore, Sandhills Business Expo, Moore County Leadership Institute and the Golden Apple Award.
“I only hope to have played some small part in the development of Moore County as a great place to work, live and raise a family,” Bilyak said in his letter of resignation.
But for all his accomplishments, it is his sense of humor and hearty laugh that so many remember.
His wife remembers her husband as being a jokester, who loved good, clean fun, like making a recording of “Jingle Bells” with laughter.
“What attracted me to him first and always was the way he laughed,” she said.
She said the family plans to hold a private memorial service at a later date. She thanked everyone in the community for their support during this difficult time for her family.
“I received so many phone calls from people I haven’t talked to in years,” she said. “That means so much. This is a wonderful community.”
Contact Tom Embrey at email@example.com.
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