William C. (Billy) Baxter, a pioneering figure in college basketball, died Oct. 13. He was 81.

He had enjoyed a remarkable life in which his passion met his purpose. He liked to say that he felt lucky and blessed to regard his work as play.

His deeply-rooted sense of family defined him. He was born in Harlem on May 16, 1940. His parents, Christine Segee Baxter and William Baxter Sr., were milliners and proprietors of Baxter’s Hats. He lived with his parents and maternal grandparents. Some of his favorite memories centered on his grandmother’s cooking and extended family trips to the circus, Coney Island and Riis Beach.

At 13, Billy began playing organized basketball and was mentored by legendary coach Holcombe Rucker, who secured an opportunity for him to try out for a college scholarship. He was chosen for the team at Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, N.C., where he was starting point guard from 1958 to 1962.

He graduated in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and began his career with the New York city department of parks & recreation, managing all types of athletic competitions. He was promoted to supervisor and then Bronx borough director. For the many scholar athletes who admired him, Billy paid forward the same opportunities that Mr. Rucker had extended to him. He received his master’s degree in recreation and education from Lehman College in 1975.

He spent seven years serving in the U.S. Army National Guard.

Billy played in summer pro leagues with legends such as Julius (Dr. J) Erving, Earl (The Pearl) Monroe, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others. Affectionately called Onion, he was known for his long-range precision jump shot and killer crossover. He was one of the first players to perfect the move.

He officiated for the Eastern College Athletic Conference, National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Public Schools Athletic League Championship, one of an elite group of African-American officials in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 2000, after 37 years, Billy retired from the parks department as well as the college officiating circuit. Tennis soon displaced basketball as his favorite sport. He was a weekend warrior on the court and his weapon of choice was the inside out forehand.

His legacy is underscored by his lifelong passions. His enthusiasm for music spanned decades, from the school glee club to the Latin clubs of New York city. Self-taught on timbales, he spent many years drumming for the band Orchestra Flamboyan.

Other interests included nature, classic films and spending time playing with his adoring grandchildren, for whom he built a backyard basketball court at their Martha’s Vineyard home.

Although afflicted with Parkinson’s disease later in life, he persevered for 25 years. Warm and compassionate with a quiet sense of humor, Billy always got a good laugh with his one-liners.

At 24, Billy married Thelma, the love of his life. They lived in Harlem and enjoyed music, dancing and travel. They later moved to Englewood, N.J., and raised two daughters, Dana and Dawn. Billy was an attentive and supportive father who shared his love of sports and music with his daughters and ever missed a game or recital. The family spent summers with friends on Martha’s Vineyard.

He is survived by his devoted wife Thelma, with whom he recently celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary; his two loving daughters, Dana Baxter and Dawn Baxter Woodhouse; his two precious grandchildren, Kayla Arielle Gilbert and Parker James Woodhouse; as well as his brother, John Baxter and countless close relatives who treasured him.

He was predeceased by his parents and two other siblings, Crystal Baxter and Frank Baxter.