By Gary SheftickJuly 18, 2012
FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, July 18, 2012) -- The Army lost one of its best advocates Tuesday when William "Rob" McIlvaine died at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.
Rob was a masterful storyteller. He had a genuine interest in every assignment and the ability to bond with anyone he interviewed. His frequent smile and disarming chuckle set everyone at ease, no matter their rank or disposition.
He touched the hearts and minds of thousands as he wrote about Army medicine and warrior care. He communicated regularly with G-1 and Human Resources Command so he could tell Soldiers about the latest changes in programs that affected them and their families.
Rob had a way with words. His stories were often poignant and sometimes heart-wrenching. He made sometimes boring Army policies come to life by putting a human face on them.
Last year Rob traveled to Fort Polk, La., with a congressional delegation and wrote a series of highly-acclaimed articles about the Joint Readiness Training Center. This past April he traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., with another delegation to tell the story of the Joint Maneuver Center of Excellence, and to include articles about Infantry training and another about Rangers in action.
Even when he was suffering from medical complications, Rob insisted on telling the Army story. He worked from home, conducting interviews bedside over the phone and he crafted in-depth articles.
Six weeks ago, he got up out of his sick bed and drove to the Memorial Day "Rolling Thunder" observance to interview a former colleague who lost her husband in Iraq and had ridden a motorcycle from San Antonio to Washington, D.C., to honor his memory. She also rode to bring recognition to survivors, to Gold Star mothers and wives, Rob wrote.
Rob began his employment at Defense Media Activity Dec. 5, 2010. Before that he served as a writer for the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, located at that time in Alexandria, Va. He had prior military service as a Navy corpsman during the Vietnam era, then launched a career in the video and film business, and for a while taught script-writing classes at American University.
Rob was proud of his family. His son Capt. Brian McIlvaine served in Iraq last year and now is a full-time employee of the North Carolina National Guard.
Rob was also proud of his American Indian heritage. He was a descendant of Chief Black Hawk and a member of the Sac and Fox nation. His grandfather was the cousin of Jim Thorpe, who won two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics and was voted the most versatile athlete of the 20th century.
Thorpe and Rob's grandfather played football together in 1911 at Carlisle Indian School, next to Carlisle Barracks, Pa.
Last year, Rob wrote an award-winning commentary about his Indian heritage. He said as a youth, when his grandfather, Wapahmak -- Dark Shining Object on Still Water -- took him fishing or watched him play football, he "knew the eyes of (his) ancestors were upon (him)."
As the Smithsonian Institution was preparing to open the National Museum of the American Indian in 2002, Rob became an executive producer and producer and headed up a team that traveled across the continent to produce a series of films on American Indian heritage.
He interviewed Kahnawake Mohawks who helped erect the Empire State Building. He journeyed to the Yakama Nation and saw salmon fishing along the Columbia River in Washington. He visited the small Hoopa Valley Tribe and took a boat ride up the "majestic Trinity River" in northern California where Rob said he "saw eagles soar."
During his travels, Rob said he was sometimes invited to dance at pow wows because of his military experience. "I was hesitant to join the other dancers because I had once told a cousin that I didn't know how to dance," Rob wrote. "His answer to me was 'that's alright, no one knows how to dance, only God knows."'
Today Rob dances on clouds.
(Rob McIlvaine is survived by his wife, Tomi, his mother Louise McIlvaine, his daughter Dina McIlvaine, and his sons Shane McIlvaine and Capt. Brian McIlvaine, his daughter-in-law Jennifer McIlvaine and granddaughters Lana and Keira McIlvaine. He is also survived by his family of fellow Army News writers, including the author, his editor.)