WASHINGTON - Adm. Donald Lee Pilling, a retired Navy four-star admiral revered for his leadership, mathematical genius and easy sense of humor, died May 26, at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The Bayside, N.Y. native was 64 years old and lived in Vienna, Va.
Pilling was best known in the Navy for his vast intellect. Having graduated fourth in his Naval Academy class of 1965 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, he further distinguished himself as one of the school's first Trident Scholars. Pilling's research dealt with the abstractions of partially ordered systems, where he studied under his mentor and lifelong friend, Professor "Prof" James Abbott.
He later earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Cambridge with a dissertation entitled, "The Algebra of Operators for Regular Events." Pilling was also a prolific writer, publishing articles in both mathematical and professional journals throughout his life.
A running joke in Navy circles was that when he dropped his briefcase, math journals and technical manuals were far more likely than routine paperwork to spill out of it.
Pilling spent most of his sea duty in small warships, rising to command the destroyer USS Dahlgren (DDG-43), and later, Destroyer Squadron 26. He was a firm believer in holding himself and others to a high standard of responsibility and accountability, telling a Senate committee once that, "Accountability can be, must be, a severe standard. Without accountability, command loses credibility and authority. Without authority, command at sea becomes impossible."
As a flag officer, he commanded Cruiser Group 12/USS Saratoga Battle Group and later the United States 6th Fleet/Naval Striking and Support Forces Southern Europe, based in Naples, Italy.
Ashore, Pilling excelled at a variety of defense resources and planning billets, including stints in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and four tours on the Navy Staff. His last such assignment -- before becoming the Navy's 30th Vice Chief of Naval Operations in November 1997 -- was as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Resources, Warfare Requirements and Assessments (N8). In this capacity, he was responsible for planning and preparing the Navy's annual programs and budget.
It was often said of Pilling that he never forgot the needs of the warfighter. His primary concern while in Washington was "what the Navy really needs not just today, but for decades to come," noted a colleague. "This is a man who has been there; he knows what it means to be a warrior, and what it is that we need."
He retired from the Navy in October 2000 and became President and CEO of LMI in 2002. During his tenure, LMI grew from $100 to $160 million.
At his Navy retirement ceremony, then-Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig, summed up best the enduring qualities Pilling epitomized. With him, Danzig said, "you have somebody whose intellect shapes and frames our experiences, someone whose qualities of fairness, and of judgment make for us a world in which we really trust one another in our decision-making; someone who mentors other people in a warm and human way; so much a friend. That is Don Pilling."
Pilling was a member of the Defense Science Board, White House Fellows Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. He served on the Boards of the Naval War College, Applied Physics Laboratory, and National Defense Industrial Association.
As stated by the CNO, Adm. Gary Roughead, "On behalf of the entire Navy family, many of whom had the distinct honor and privilege of serving with Admiral Pilling, I extend our sincere condolences and heartfelt prayers to the Pilling family and friends during this time of grief and reflection. While Don Pilling will be sorely missed, his vision and legacy of service will live on, and our Navy is better for it."
Pilling is survived by his wife of 42 years, Barbara Orbon Pilling of Vienna, Va.; two daughters, Kathleen Pilling Posivak of Hopewell Junction, NY, and Jennifer Pilling Stopkey, of Richmond, Va; four grandsons: Michael Posivak, Christopher Posivak, Matthew Stopkey, Alexander Donald Stopkey; a sister, Betsy Pilling and a brother, Brian Pilling, both of Bayside, N.Y.