Bill McIlwain and his bandana collection. Photo: Star-News
Going through old files on my computer trying to find traces of communication with my dear friend Bill McIlwain, who passed away at 88 this week, I came across a document titled, “Fashion Fix Testimonials” with a quote from Bill that made me smile as I thought of him with his tie-dye bandana and twinkle in his eye.
“An especially good “Fix” today — solid information, interesting events to attend, good-looking wife of a good reporter (disclosure: fairly certain this was a reference to Sara Gannon, Pat Gannon’s wife). You are splendid in your work, JJ. You look mighty good, too…..”
– Bill McIlwain, 80+ year old Ladies Man and Former Newsday Editor
He was a shaman of sorts and you could always count on Bill to encourage the young people around him, particularly writers. While I was writing my weekly “Style Girl” column for the Star-News, I got the summons that Bill McIlwain, the paper’s illustrious senior mentor, wanted to meet with me. One pear & fennel salad and chocolate turtle tart later at Caffe Phoenix, and we were fast friends.
Not only had Bill edited some of the country’s top newspapers before retiring in his hometown of Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach, but his writing also graced the pages of Esquire and The Atlantic Monthly. He published several novels – most famously, a literary hoax in 1969, which he co-wrote with a group of editors. Bill liked to recall, “We knew if we put the words ‘Naked’ and ‘Stranger’ in the title, we might have a best seller on our hands.” They each wrote a chapter, published the book with the pen name “Penelope Ashe,” and sure enough, “Naked Came the Stranger” spent 13 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. His second best seller, “A Farewell to Alcohol,” published by Random House in 1972, shared his personal struggle with addiction.
He had a notorious soft spot for the ladies and was frequently seen around town (and at quite a few of my style events) with a pretty young thing on his arm in lieu of using his cane. He liked to say he was a bit like Blanche DuBois of A Streetcar Named Desire “always depend(ing) on the kindness of strangers.” With one of his faux paramours, I recall he even had a bet going that if he reached 90, she might even sleep with him. Pretty sure that kept him going when his bones started to ache into the night. Wink.
I featured Bill as one of our bachelors in Focus on the Coast one year and sorted through his “love notes” with him. This was when I realized he would most likely remain a bachelor forever since he refused to entertain invitations from beautiful, dynamic women closer to his own age.
He had quite an extensive bandana collection, which became his signature accessory. He looked a little like Willie Nelson but the fashion statement was really just a result of his time on the tennis courts. One year for his birthday, I gave him a vintage Lanvin scarf to add to his collection. He said he would save it for a special occasion.
He often invited me to dinner, the symphony or a show while Joel worked behind the bar. With each visit, he was always bearing gifts – typically a ripe pear, a magazine, and an occasional blank greeting card with stamped envelope from one of the charities he supported – always a subtle encouragement to keep writing.
Joel watched him consulting and charming writers at The Star-News over lunch at Caffe Phoenix once a week every Wednesday.
“Generous of heart, brilliant of mind and large of soul, Bill gave freely of himself to young journalists, seeing in them talent and strengths that they didn’t see in themselves. Funny, disarming, smart, Bill lit up the newsroom. That light still glows in the lives and work of all those he inspired,” says Charlotte Hall, echoing in the silence of Bill’s long-abondoned Facebook page.
He didn’t care much for his cane. With no young woman to lean on a la Blanche DuBois, Joel would tell him to hold tight to his arm and walk him across Front Street to his car after his lunch at the Phoenix.
Before he left Wilmington in 2010 to be closer to his son and family in Winston Salem, he would invite me over to his little yellow house at Wrightsville Beach, pour a glass of wine (he stuck with water) while he recited a few of his favorite poems and passages.
In one of Bill’s last exchanges in my Inbox, he signed off:
“Take good care of your hard-working, smart, stylish, good-looking self.”
I’ve missed him long before he was gone.
Onwards & Upwards, sweet Bill!
As you know, the 4th annual Great Gatsby Gala is upon us. So basically I will be living, dreaming, sleeping, and breathing Gatsby till the evening of September 18th. And, I’m not complaining. It’s safe to say I’m in my element.
Last week, I joined the incredibly talented Lisa Brown of Bella Rose Photography (her 3rd Gatsby!) and an incredible entourage at The City Club and The Blind Elephant speakesy for our latest installment of our Gatsby fantasy. For now, I’m only sharing two of our 2,300 images (for real!) below, along with several of Lisa’s beautiful behind the scenes detail shots. You’ll just have to hold your breath till next week….
This just might be my favorite photo from the entire shoot.
Baz Luhrmann inspired
Behind the Scenes
Rozy from Rockin Roller Salon working on some pin curls!
1920’s era makeup perfected by Amy Kennison
L: Some extra accessories once owned by my grandfather
R: 1920’s inspired baubles for sale from aMuse
1st Antique & Estate Sale
Lumina Gem is hosting their first annual antique and estate jewelry sale featuring a variety of unique classic, antique and collectibles that range from the Art Deco period to Victorian. These one-of-a-kind pieces will be in the store for three days only! From 10:00am to 6:00pm August 21st through 23rd. Keep tabs on their Facebook page for sneak peeks! (both pieces below will be at the sale)
+ 20% off the entire Style Girl Vintage collection!
Great Gatsby Gala
Pat Kusek of Kusek Financial Group presents the 4th Annual Great Gatsby Gala hosted by Jess James at The City Club inspired by the Great American Novel and the joie de vivre of the Jazz Age glamourized by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Get ready for some Roaring 20’s reverie! As the City Club’s only event open to the public, there will be an exclusive discount (80% discount!) for membership sign-up on the night of the event only.
“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate.”
– Jordan Baker
THE BEE’S KNEES:
* Delicious food, Prohibition era cocktails and 1920‘s music with
Chanteuse Nnenne Terzian and The Justin Lacy Swingtet.
* Speakeasy: Members Only Burlesque show with nationally renowned burlesque dancer.
Sign up that night to enter!
* Portraits in the Garden with Artist Kat Christian +
Photo Booth with Bella Rose Photography
* Coveted Charity Raffle Prizes benefiting our local Make A Wish
* Official After Party at The Blind Elephant Speakeasy!
THE MAGIC HOUR:
Thursday, September 18th
VIP Hour in The Gardens: 6pm-7pm
Event: 7pm-10pm / After Party starts at 10:30pm at The Blind Elephant
The City Club of Wilmington
23 South 2nd Street
On sale NOW
General Admission: $60 in advance / $75 at door
(includes heavy hors d’eouvres + 2 complimentary drinks)
VIP: $130 in advance / $150 at door
(VIP Cocktail Hour in the Gardens with Master Mixologist + entertainment.
City Club will waive new membership initiation fee for VIP guests!)
1920’s, “old sport!”
CARE Project Gala
The CARE Project is an official 501c3 public charity.
Hosted by Dr. Johnnie Sexton, Audiologist,
founder and Executive Director of The CARE Project.
Official Partner Hotel:Wilmington Riverside Hilton
Special Celebrity Guest: Project Runway Finalist Justin LeBlanc
The CARE Project raises money to provide retreat weekend counseling
experiences for families with children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Musical Entertainment: Jack Jack 180
Featured Chef Stations with:
1. Top Chef Contestant Chef Keith Rhodes/Catch
2. Southern Smoke BBQ/Matthew Register
3. Wilmington Riverside Hilton Carving Station
4. Pine Valley Market
Live Auction Featuring:
* Custom designed gown by Jessie Williams/Edge of Urge: value up to $1,500
* Pig Pickin Beach Music Party for 75 People from Southern Smoke BBQ: value $3,000
* French Crepe Dinner Party – up to 14 people (incl wine + limo)
from SouthnFrance Bonbons: value $2,000
* 2012 Club Car Golf Cart from Meekins Auction House: value $2,500
* Original Bald Head Island Marshscape Oil Painting by Xris Kessler: value $1,700
* Frying Pan Towers B & B Weekend for 2 (incl roundtrip transportation): value $3,000
Saturday, September 20, 2014
502 N. Front Street
Tickets: $45 – To get yours,