Alex Bilanow Dead at 77

Alex Bilanow Dead at 77

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Alexander Bilanow, who forged a 54-year career in Washington as a journalist and a railroad public affairs executive, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 5 at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 77.

As a newspaperman, labor organizer, rail industry spokesman, political speechwriter, decorated war veteran, devoted family man, tireless traveler, amateur playwright and woodcarver, Mr. Bilanow cut a figure as gracious, kind and smart as the human interest stories he once wrote at the old Washington Daily News.

Most recently, he was widely known in the transport industry as the host of the Transportation Table, a biweekly forum that Mr. Bilanow managed for 26 years. Whether questioning powerful CEOs or introducing avid proponents of pie-in-the-sky schemes, Mr. Bilanow offered respect and warmth along with a dry wit and self-effacing humor formed by years of experience.

As a journalist, he worked at the Washington bureau of the Journal of Commerce from 1972 to 1974, launching more than 30 years in the transportation trade.

But his first calling as a writer began in 1949 when he came to Washington as a freelance writer for the United Auto Workers union. That same year the Washington Daily News hired him as a copy boy and he worked there for 23 years until the newspaper closed in 1972. He was a reporter, editor, columnist and a Newspaper Guild organizer there.

He also worked briefly as a reporter at The Washington Star before joining the Journal of Commerce.

He moved into the rail industry in 1975 as director of public affairs for the U.S. Railway Association, a quasi-governmental agency that oversaw the creation and operation of Conrail. From 1988 until his retirement in 1998, Mr. Bilanow handled public relations in Washington for rail car manufacturer TTX.

Alexander Bilanow was born in Lorain, Ohio, on Dec. 8, 1925, and his family soon moved to Dearborn, Mich.

He joined the U.S. Army in 1944 and earned a Bronze Star. As a private in the 97th Division he was among the first troops to cross the Rhine into Germany and participated in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Flossenberg, Germany. He served in occupied Japan after the war''s end and was discharged in 1946.

While at the UAW, Mr. Bilanow met co-worker Elizabeth "Betsy" Levinson and they were married July 1, 1949. They were married until her death in 1990.

He loved the theater and wrote children''s plays that were performed at the local Adventure Theater. Mr. Bilanow also collaborated with his wife on political and social satires staged by a local community club.

He is survived by his partner of 13 years, Marilyn Newton of Washington, D.C., two sisters, a brother, four children and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Jan. 17, at the National Press Club in Washington, 529 14th St. NW. The family suggests that donations in his memory be made to the Audubon Society or the Democratic presidential candidate of your choice.