In the 1960s, McIlwain was founding editor of the New York City edition of Newsday. He also edited The Toronto Star, Bergen Record, Boston Herald-American, Washington-Star, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Sarasota, Fla., Herald-Tribune.
In the 1960s, McIlwain and other Newsday staffers collaborated on "Naked Came the Stranger," a spoof of sex-soaked novels of the period such as "Valley of the Dolls." Published in 1969 under the pen name "Penelope Ashe," The hoax-novel spent 13 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list.
In later years, McIlwain acted as a mentor and coach to a number of young reporters, "He was quick with the sincere compliment, singling out people for their good work and praising them in public," said StarNews public safety editor Jim Ware.
William Franklin McIlwain Jr. was born Dec. 15, 1925, on a farm near Lancaster, S.C., the son of William F. McIlwain and Docia Higgins McIlwain. The family relocated to Wilmington when McIlwain was in the sixth grade, and he later said he always considered himself a Wilmington resident.