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Richard Milligan, longtime Grumman employee, dies at 84

Richard Milligan, a man who loved art and airplanes, had the good fortune to find a long-term career that allowed him to work with both.

A 41-year Grumman Corp. employee, he served as the company's film producer and special projects manager, and also was tapped as technical adviser to the adventure films "Top Gun" with Tom Cruise and "The Final Countdown" with Kirk Douglas.

Milligan, 84, of Bay Shore, who retired in 1991, died Oct. 27 following a stroke.

He is remembered for his sense of humor and his doodling, said his daughter Jane E. Arbeiter of Brightwaters. "He always had a sketchbook."

Indeed that's how he got his job. After serving in World War II, he was overseeing the maintenance and operations of an aircraft at Grumman, she said, when an executive noticed the amusing doodles Milligan had posted around the hangar. That led to his moving on to work on company brochures, visual presentations, training manuals and documentaries, as well as his conceptualizing the logo for the Navy's F-14 Tomcat.

Ray Mason, 64, now chief videographer at Grumman, said he remembers Milligan making faces in the mirror to get just the right expression for that tough cat image.

After his retirement, Milligan and a television producer from Port Washington taped the reminiscences of about 12 pilots - then in their 80s and 90s - from the early days of aviation on Long Island. Those tapes became the foundation for the 1998 film "Daredevils and Dreamers: An Eyewitness Account," shown on WNET 13, with Newsday as one of the sponsors. A Newsday reviewer said the film captured "some of the drama, elegance and danger of early flight."

Born in Bay Shore, Milligan left Bay Shore High School in his senior year in 1943 to join the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he served as a B-24 flight engineer and gunner in Europe during World War II. He returned to finish his studies at St. Lawrence University and the Art Students League of New York.

In retirement he also did community service and exhibited his frequently whimsical wood carvings.

Besides Arbeiter, he's survived by his wife, the former Mary Lawlor, whom he married in 1950; a son, Brian C. of Oakdale; daughters Anne Rogers of Round Rock, Texas; and Suzanne Milligan of Bega, Australia; and 10 grandchildren.

A memorial service was held Monday at Overton Funeral Home in Islip. Donations can be made to the Seatuck Environmental Association, Sagtikos Manor Historical Society, or Bay Shore Historical Society.

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