Coral McIlwain [1939-2013]; Local woman co-led estate-sales business


Coral McIlwain, who with her husband, Lionel, operated an antiques and estate liquidation business for 40 years, died Monday in Ebeid Hospice Residence, Sylvania. She was 74.

She had developed complications from pneumonia. She was in ill health after surgery to remove a brain tumor, her daughter Margot said.

Mrs. Mcllwain and her husband, of Sylvania Township, were proprietors of McIlwain Antiques, which began in 1971 as a way to shed some of their own estate-sale finds.

Her husband was a newly hired and modestly paid instructor at the University of Toledo, and the family furnished its residence with items from sales — and then some.

They were from Australia and had only come to the United States in 1967 so Mr. McIlwain could attend graduate school.

The McIlwains rented a storefront on Main Street in Sylvania for their business. From then on, selling vintage goods was Mrs. McIlwain’s full-time profession.

“It was a way for her to connect to the community,” her daughter said. “She was from out of the area. She had a young family, and being a shopkeeper allowed her regular company. She was a determined person and had an entrepreneurial streak. She liked the thrill of the hunt and risk-taking a bit.”

The couple started to get invitations to conduct house and estate sales. By the late 1970s, they’d closed the shop and focused on estate sales and liquidation exclusively.

Jamie Thompson of the Carriage House Antiques called the business an “estate-sale empire.

“They have touched thousands of families. They were given an honor: Here’s the key to the house; please settle someone’s life,” said Mr. Thompson, 35, whose mother took him to a McIlwain sale when he was a week old. Mrs. McIlwain had an eye for beauty and an awareness of quality, he said.

“There was this instantaneous warmth when you met her,” Mr. Thompson said. “You get this idea of calmness: She knows what she’s talking about. She’s going to be able to get this done.”

That meant being tough, but compassionate, her daughter said, “open and generous and quick to smile, but nobody’s fool. You couldn’t get much past her.”

Mrs. McIlwain was a charter member in 2004 of the Toledo Metropolitan Ladies Club and took part in the group’s monthly luncheons and annual charity events. She was a longtime expert at knitting and in recent years put her skill to work in making cotton bandages, which the D.O.V.E. Fund Bandage Brigade sends to leprosy patients in Vietnam.

She was born July 1, 1939, to Emily and Henry Byrnes in Kempsey, New South Wales, Australia. To help her family, she left small-town life for work in the big city, Sydney.

Surviving are her husband, Lionel McIlwain, whom she married Jan. 30, 1959; daughters, Catherine McIlwain and Margot Nishimura; sons, Craig and Kelvin McIlwain; sisters, Noreen Dowling and Gay McLeod; 14 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

The family will receive guests in the Walker Funeral Home, Sylvania Township, from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, with a sharing of m

emories service to follow in the mortuary.

The family suggests tributes to the Sparrow’s Nest of Cherry Street Mission Ministries.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.