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KILIK--Eugene Leon,

94, died in the early morning hours of Sunday, October 8, 2017 at the Brookdale Battery Park in Manhattan. Gene was born on February 18, 1923 in New York City to David and Rose (Plager) Kilik; their first residence was an apartment in the Bronx overlooking Yankee Stadium. The family moved to Jersey City in the late 1920s and Gene graduated from Lincoln High School in 1940. He matriculated that year at the University of Virginia, but immediately following Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the United States Air Force as a flight cadet and graduated from training as a second lieutenant pilot. His first assignment was to San Antonio, TX, where he renewed his friendship with the young woman he had met during training at the University of Toledo; they married a few months later. After the end of the War, Gene (with Margaret and baby Michael) returned to Virginia so that he could complete his studies; he worked part time on a farm in exchange for housing, graduating in 1947 with a B.S. in chemistry. Returning to New Jersey, Gene began his career in the family business, NJ Tanning Co. & Mutual Brief Case Co., in Newark, NJ. In later life, Gene would comment of Philip Roth's "American Pastoral," whose protagonist owns a glove factory, that Roth could have been describing his own life exactly. The company significantly expanded under his stewardship, and after the business was sold in the late 1960s, Gene moved on to become President of the Tanners' Council of America, where his duties included representing the industry to the government and to various international trade associations. He received a master's degree in economics from NYU and taught at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. In addition to their primary residence, a small eighteenth-century farmhouse in New Providence, NJ where deer regularly ravaged the produce of Gene's impressive vegetable garden, Margaret's interest in art and the art world led them to acquire a loft at 130 Greene St. in Soho, run by Margaret in the 1970s and 1980s as the Key Gallery. In recent years, Greene St. became Gene's sole residence. He hosted many extraordinary events and parties there, and his neighbors from the building remained some of his dearest friends even after he moved out in 2016. Gene's lifelong passion for the theater led him in retirement to review plays for the Town & Village newspaper, where he served for many years as one of the main theater critics. He also leaves behind a treasure trove of unpublished plays and novel drafts, including a drama about the trial of Aaron Burr and a series of detective novels written under the pseudonym "N.J. Tanner." Gene was predeceased by his wife Margaret (Brown) (1921 - 2001) and sons Michael (1945 - 1985) and James (1950 - 2015). He leaves behind an enormous and devoted group of family and friends: his brother and sister-in-law Allen and Phyllis Kilik of Delray Beach, FL; his nephew Jon Kilik of New York and Los Angeles and niece Jane Munroe (husband Rod, children Otis and Rachael) of North Chittenden, VT; his daughter-in-law Caroline Davidson of Philadelphia, PA; and her three children, Jenny Davidson of New York, Jonathan Davidson (wife Michelle Teague, son Jack Maverick) of Austin, TX, and Michael Davidson (wife Jessica Zenquis, daughter Gianna Graziella) of Rutherford, NJ. A large circle of cousins, both his own and his wife Margaret's, were very important to him. He is survived by cousins Betty Toole of Mill Valley, CA, Janet Gordon of Boca Raton, FL, Iris Sampliner of Rye Brook, NY and Ruth Plager of Summit, NJ; and a host of Texan relatives, including Della Daniels, Tim and Kellie Daniels and their daughter Kayla, Jennifer and Chris Denslow and their son Ryan, Tammy and David Schmidt, and the Haterius family in West Texas. The list of dear family and friends could go on indefinitely, and we apologize for inadvertent omissions. Gene was cared for in his final year of life by Darren McCormack, whose generosity and devotion inspired everyone who witnessed them.

Published in The New York Times on Oct. 22, 2017
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