William Franklin McIlwain, Jr., former Newsday editor and member of the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame, died last week in Winston-Salem. He was eighty-eight.
McIlwain was born in 1925 in a farmhouse near Lancaster, South Carolina. His family relocated to Wilmington when he was in the sixth grade, and he later said he always considered himself a Wilmington resident.
At seventeen, he landed a job as a sportswriter at the Wilmington Star-News. He served in the Marine Corps after high school and earned a BA in English from Wake Forest College in Winston-Salem in 1949.
He later joined the Richmond Times-Dispatch and, with only a month of copy editing experience, he was hired as Newsday’s chief copy editor in 1954. McIlwain served as day news editor, city editor, assistant managing editor, managing editor, and editor-in-chief at Newsday, leaving in 1970 and returning in 1982 to lead the newspaper’s expansion into New York. In the interim, he was a writer-in-residence at Wake Forest University and authored a bestselling memoir, A Farewell to Alcohol.
Tony Insolia, former Newsday editor, said McIlwain recognized talent. “If McIlwain told me that somebody was a .350 hitter . . . I would believe it. If they could meet McIlwain’s test, they could work for me.”
McIlwain retired to Wrightsville Beach in 1990, where he “acted as a mentor and coach to a number of young reporters.” He moved to Winston-Salem in 2010 to be closer to family.
“McIlwain understands the art of writing, the rush of reporting and the need for constant encouragement,” wrote reporter Veronica Gonzalez in a 2010 piece. She also praised “his gift for uplifting people when they are down by saying a few kind words, sharing stories about his life or simply listening.”