John C. Reilly Jr., 79, a Navy historian and author who retired in 2001 as director of the Naval Historical Center’s ship history branch, died Dec. 17 at his home in Fairfax County.

He had Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Anna Reilly.

Mr. Reilly joined the Naval Historical Center in the mid-1960s and became branch head in the mid-1980s.

During his time at the center, he was the author or co-writer of several books, including “United States Navy Destroyers of World War II in Action” (1985).

After his retirement, he worked at the Naval Historical Foundation and helped establish a book donation program for the Navy Department Library.

John Charles Reilly Jr. was a native of Springfield, Mass., and a 1955 history graduate of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg. He served in the Navy from 1954 to 1957 and received a master’s degree in library science from Catholic University in 1968.

His memberships included the Knights of Columbus.

Survivors include his wife of 51 years, Anna McMahon Reilly of Fairfax; three children, Sheila Reilly of Manassas, and John Reilly III and Sharon Smith, both of Fairfax; a brother; and five grandchildren.

— Megan McDonough