Paul M. Rilling

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  • "Paul Rilling was a valuable member of our community for..."
    - Glen Browder
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Paul M. Rilling, who died Sunday morning at age 94, worked at The Anniston Star as writer and editor from 1973 to 1989, in addition to careers in teaching and government service. At The Star, he wrote editorials, covered political news and served as executive editor. In later years he wrote a monthly "media critic" column, evaluating The Star's performance. A celebration of his life will be announced at a later date. Rilling was active in community affairs, serving as president of the Anniston Kiwanis Club, chairman of the Salvation Army advisory board, chairman of the Family Services Center board, board member of the United Way, the Community Action Agency and Concern for Children, member of the Calhoun County Democratic Executive Committee and president of the Democratic Club. Born June 16, 1922, Rilling was raised by a single mother, a social worker in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Hiram College, Ohio, where he majored in political science and history. He completed three years there before serving in the Army from 1943-46. Most of his Army service was in the United States. He sailed for Europe in the spring of 1945. He was assigned to the 4th Armored Division, Headquarters Company, where he served as a radio operator. The war in Europe was nearly over when Rilling's unit raced across France and Germany and into what was then Czechoslovakia after the retreating German forces. After the fighting had ended, the 4th Armored Division was assigned to an area around Regensburg, Germany. Rilling spent most of his remaining year abroad working as a staff member of the divisional weekly newspaper. When the notice went up for recruitment for a newspaper staff he got the last position. "I was the only staff member who had not been a professional journalist before the war," Rilling said. "That's where I learned journalism, working with men who had been wire service correspondents or writers with major daily newspapers." When the 4th Armored Division moved back to the U.S., the First infantry Division moved into Regensburg. "They kept the newspaper staff intact. One week we published the 4th Armored weekly. The next week we put out the 1st Division newspaper," Rilling said. The journalists were assigned quarters in a downtown hotel in Regensburg, which they shared with other special units. One of the "guests" in the hotel was Sgt. Mickey Rooney, who was coordinating entertainment groups from the U.S. Rilling returned to graduate from Hiram College in 1947, then received a graduate fellowship with the Southern Regional Training Program in Public Administration, a program involving studies at the universities of Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. He received his master's degree in political science, with a major in public administration, from the University of Alabama in 1948. Rilling said that when he was in college, "I knew I was interested in government and politics. I didn't know whether to teach it, to practice it or to cover it." He ended up doing all three. He started in education, as a political science instructor at North Texas State College, now the University of North Texas. He was recruited back to Alabama to teach at the University of Alabama Center in Mobile in 1951. There, he was active in local civic and political activities, including civil rights. He worked with black and white leaders seeking progress in race relations. One of those involved was a young black minister, the Rev. Joseph Lowery. But Rilling's activities were seen as controversial by the local newspaper and the Democratic Party leadership in Mobile. The university considered it a problem and told him to move on. After a year at Emory University in Atlanta directing a one-year statewide project in adult education in foreign affairs, Rilling moved on to his second career, journalism. He went to work in 1955 as editor of the Gainesville Morning News, a small daily newspaper in Gainesville, Ga. The paper was ahead of its time in a couple of ways: It was a morning newspaper in an era of afternoon papers; and it was the first offset-printed newspaper in Georgia - one of the first in the Southeast. After a year, the Morning News was bought out by the opposition, the Gainesville Times. "It was a good learning experience," Rilling told friends later. Turning from his brief return to journalism, to full-time work in civil rights, Rilling first directed a project in college desegregation for the Southern Area YMCA, then joined the South-wide network of the Southern Regional Council, a biracial organization based in Atlanta. He worked as director of the Virginia Council on Human Relations and as field director for the Southern Regional Council. He then followed civil rights into government and his third career, public administration. Rilling was director of the Council on Human Relations for the District of Columbia government in 1962-65, and then joined the federal Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1965. He was assistant director of the office and then director of the Atlanta regional office of OCR, responsible for its work throughout the Southeast. That office was responsible for administering Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, requiring all public agencies receiving federal funds to desegregate their programs. This involved public school systems, colleges, and state social service departments. He continued with OCR into the first year of the Nixon administration, working for a new Republican director of OCR, Leon Panetta. A Nixon appointee, Panetta believed in enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, which brought him into conflict with Nixon's "Southern Strategy," of easing up on civil rights enforcement in the South. The conflict led to Panetta's firing by the White House. Rilling then resigned, saying he could no longer function in his position under the Nixon administration. Rilling then took another government position, working in the administration of state social services in Illinois under a moderate Republican governor, 1970-73. That position ended when the governor was defeated for reelection. "I lost one job when the Republicans won a national election and another when the Democrats won a state election," he said. Rilling's third career was over. He returned to journalism with The Anniston Star. His wife, Margaret "Miggy" Rilling, a native of North Carolina, wanted to come back South and to settle down after years of frequent moving. When Rilling retired from The Star in 1989 he went back to his first career, teaching, as an adjunct teacher of political science and journalism at JSU. He also taught government at Talladega College. In 2008 he retired from teaching. Rilling enjoyed international travel, gourmet food and drink, traditional jazz, and was an avid Atlanta Braves fan. By his own boast he was a fair Italian cook and a novice jazz clarinetist. Miggy Rilling died in 1996 after 36 years of a good, happy marriage. He found a new love and a new life when he met Linda Voelkel at The Anniston Star, where she was working in the Circulation Department. In time, they decided to share their lives as life partners. Rilling credited Linda with maintaining the high quality of his life as the aches and pains of aging developed. "She has been indispensable. Her love has sustained me. Despite her own health problems she has been my patient's representative, an important role in dealing with the medical community. "We face our problems together but Linda has never forgotten why we are together. We also share our joys and laughter." They were together for nearly 21 years. "Not long enough," as Rilling put it not long before his death.
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Gray Brown-Service Mortuary
1329 Wilmer Ave
Anniston, AL 362014651
(256) 236-3441
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Published in The Anniston Star from Feb. 14 to Feb. 15, 2017
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Anniston, AL   (256) 236-3441
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