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John E. Illia Jr.

1939 - 2018
John E. Illia Jr. Obituary
John E. Illia Jr.

Oct 15, 1939 - Dec 18, 2018

John E. Illia Jr., 79, an award-winning trucking industry expert, died on Tuesday, December 18, from heart disease, respiratory complications, and diabetes. He had been battling health issues for months before peacefully passing away around 2:45 p.m. in his Las Vegas home surrounded by family.

Illia was a leading Class 8 truck and trailer salesman, marketer, and industry expert who served as president of the Nevada Motor Transport Association (now the Nevada Trucking Association) from 1996-97. Illia earned several honors during his 40-plus-year career, being consistently named among the top 25 North American salesmen for the 100-year-old publicly traded engine maker, Cummins Inc. He twice received the prestigious winner's circle award (1992-93) from the Peterbilt Motor Co., a unit of 113-year-old publicly traded PACCAR Inc., which recorded over $19 billion in worldwide revenue in 2017. Ultimately, he was inducted into Peterbilt's refuge hall of fame for disposal truck sales.

Illia was known as ambitious, hard-working, knowledgeable, and honest with a profound industry understanding of products, markets, and regulations. He undertook a grueling travel schedule, servicing clients and companies up and down the Western United States. But his relentless deal-making paid off, shattering sales records and earning widespread industry respect. His fair, service-oriented, and relationship-based approach produced consistent referrals and loyal repeat customers such as Reno Disposal Co. and Las Vegas Paving Co., Wells Cargo and Cortez Gold Mine, among others. Illia, in fact, even sold trucks to legendary automobile collector and gaming icon, William F. Harrah.

Illia's career began with San Francisco-based Cummins diesel engine and parts distributor Watson & Meehan and San Jose Mack Inc. during the 1960s. He was later employed by Nevada-based Peterbilt dealer, Truck Parts & Equipment Co., a division of Engs Motor Truck Co., beginning in 1972 in Reno and Sparks before a 2002 retirement in Las Vegas. Illia specialized in off-road heavy duty fleet trucks and trailers, designed for mining, construction, equipment transport, and refuge, among other things.

Born on October 15, 1939, in San Francisco, Calif., John Edward Illia Jr. was one of three children, including younger brother Kevin and older sister Susan, to Helen Sullivan and John E. "Pope" Illia Sr., who was a cattle rancher as well as an athlete, coach and teacher. Sullivan was a homemaker who died at age 50 from lung cancer. Illia Jr. attended Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, where his Dad worked, and later St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. At 6-foot 3-inches tall, he played basketball while attending both schools. Illia even briefly played in the National Amateur Athletic league as well as abroad in Italy. He also served in the U.S. Army with the California National Guard from 1957-58, receiving an honorable discharge.

Illia met his future wife, Elizabeth J. Garth, while at college; the two soon married at St. Cecilia's Church, San Francisco, in 1968. The family grew quickly, adding sons Anthony and Vincent in 1969 and 1974, respectively. After brief residencies in Sacramento and Stockton, Calif., Illia moved to Reno, Nev., where he became active in the Italian-American community. He ultimately served as Italian Benevolent Society president in 1989. The booming truck business, however, prompted a southerly migration, leading to a permanent Las Vegas relocation in 1990. Illia continued his community involvement in Las Vegas, becoming active in the Italian-American Society of Southern Nevada and the Augustus Society. He served on the board of directors of both groups, holding several elected leadership positions, including president.

Meanwhile, Illia stayed involved in his family's three-generation-old sprawling timber and cattle ranch in Coleman Valley, Occidental, Calif., first established by his Italian immigrant grandfather Innocente S. Illia and Irish grandmother Helena Redmond Illia. The lush rolling hills and Redwood forest attracted the attention of Hollywood. The ranch served as the backdrop for a national car commercial and the setting for the 1993 Jean-Claude Van Damme action film, "Nowhere to Run."

John was a friendly and fun-loving family-oriented patriarch who enjoyed basketball, golf, traveling and reading. He is survived by brother Kevin Illia and sister-in-law Pamela Illia, both of Chicago, and his wife of over 50 years, Elizabeth Illia, as well by their sons Anthony and Vincent, with daughter-in-law Luetta, all of Las Vegas. A service will be held Saturday, January 12, starting at 1 p.m., inside Palm South Mortuary, 1600 South Jones Boulevard in Las Vegas. A private reception will immediately follow. His remains will be laid to rest at Druids Cemetery in Sebastopol, Calif., in a small ceremony in June

Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 6, 2019
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