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RIP William Franklin McIlwain, Jr.

William Franklin McIlwain Jr.,
William Franklin McIlwain, Jr.

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.”