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John E. Illia Jr.

1939 - 2018
John E. Illia Jr., 79, an award-winning trucking industry pundit, died on Dec.18 from heart complications. He had been battling health issues for months before peacefully passing away 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 (1996-97). Illia earned several honors during his 40-plus-year career, being consistently named among the top 25 North American salesmen for 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 NSYE-listed PACCAR Inc.

Illia was ambitious, hard-working, and knowledgeable, with a profound understanding of industry products, markets, and regulations. A grueling travel schedule, serving clients across the Western U.S., paid off. Illia shattered sales records and earned widespread industry respect. His service-oriented, relationship approach produced consistent referrals and loyal repeat customers. Illia, in fact, even sold trucks to legendary car collector and gaming icon, William F. Harrah.

Illia’s career began with San Francisco-based Cummins engine and parts distributor Watson & Meehan during the 1960s. He was later employed by Nevada 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 refuse, among other things.

Born on Oct. 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. Illia attended Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, where his Dad worked, and later St. Mary’s College, Moraga, Calif. He played basketball while attending both schools, and later participated in the National Amateur Athletic league. Illia 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 married at St. Cecilia's Church, San Francisco, in 1968. They had two sons, Tony and Vince in 1969 and 1974, respectively. After brief stays in Sacramento and Stockton, Calif., Illia moved to Reno, Nev., where he became active in the Italian-American community and eventually served as 1989 Italian Benevolent Society president. 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, serving on the board of directors of both the Italian-American Society of Southern Nevada and the Augustus Society, 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., established by his Italian immigrant grandfather Innocente Illia and Irish grandmother Helena Redmond Illia. It served as the setting for the 1993 Jean-Claude Van Damme action film, “Nowhere to Run.”

He is survived by brother Kevin and sister-in-law Pamela, and his wife of over 50 years, Elizabeth, and sons Tony and Vince, with daughter-in-law Luetta. A service will be held Jan. 12 at 1 p.m. inside Palm South Mortuary, 1600 S. Jones Blvd., Las Vegas. His remains will be laid to rest at Druids Cemetery in Sebastopol, Calif., in a small June ceremony.
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