"He said, 'I want to have children, and I want to spend as much time with my children as you did with me,'" Rowe said.
What finer accolade could a parent want?
But it was his work at the playhouse that got the plaudits Saturday.
Playhouse Managing Director Karen Wood introduced Rowe to a sold-out audience that needed no introduction.
"I spent a lot of evenings on this stage, and I talked to a lot of audiences on opening nights right here in front of the stage," Rowe said. "I cannot begin to tell you how much this community and this organization meant to me.
"I met the most important people in my life here, not the least of whom is my wife, Catherine, when she played in 'Play It Again Sam,'" Rowe said. "She is still the most important person in my life.
"We had two sons and they played on this stage and in the offices."
It must have rubbed off on Billy and his older brother, Jackson, who are both in show business.
Rowe has appeared in 23 films, more than 50 television shows and on stages around the country.
But nowhere else that he performed or directed did actors and the audience have the same relationship as they did at the playhouse when it was a community theater, Rowe said.
Laguna owes a lot, Rowe said, to the folks who made the theater possible: Nellie Moulton, for whom the theater was named, the city of Laguna Beach and the playhouse boards of directors.
"The board did a pretty damn good job over the years — the theater is 90 years old," Rowe said. "The staff worked for peanuts with tremendous passion, great directors also worked for peanuts. Volunteers worked backstage and as ushers. I can't begin to tell you how much we owe them.
"Most important were the amateur actors; they worked at their jobs during the day and here at night: the doctors, the dentists, the teachers, the students, the artists —
"And the housewives," Pat Kollenda interjected from the audience.