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Emeritus history professor Billington dead at 80

Monroe L. Billington, emeritus history professor and founder of the Department of History at New Mexico State University, passed away suddenly Tuesday, May 13.

Dr. Monroe Lee Billington, March 14, 1928 - May 13, 2008

Billington taught history at the university level for 40 years. Born on March 4, 1928 in Duncan, Okla., Billington earned his bachelor's degree at the Oklahoma Baptist University in 1950, his master's at the University of Oklahoma in 1951 and his doctorate at the University of Kentucky in 1955.

He began his four decades as a professor at the University of South Dakota, moved to the University of Toledo and then to New Mexico State University. While at NMSU, Billington is credited for being the founding head of the history department from 1968 to 1975. He helped to create an independent Department of History, the Public History Program and the Monroe Billington Award given annually for the best master's thesis. He also initiated the Lydie Thiery Hull Endowment that continues to support history graduate students. He served as Visiting Fulbright Professor at the University of Vienna (Austria) from 1962-1963, at the University of the Ruykyus (Japan) in 1985, and the University of Genoa (Italy) in 1989. He retired from NMSU in 1995. Other scholastic accomplishments are the publication of 15 books and more than 80 articles, reviews, essays, and chapters on a wide range of topics including agriculture, religion, segregation and politics.

"It was a real shock to us - we had just seen him at a history department picnic last Saturday, May 3," said Jeffrey Brown, head of the history department at NMSU.

Billington is survived by his wife Wilma, his children Marion, Mari and Melinda, and his step-children Randall, Richard, Rosemary and Ruthann, and 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, May 17, at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 225 W. Griggs Ave., Las Cruces. Services have been entrusted to the care of La Paz-Graham's Funeral Home, 555 W. Amador, Las Cruces.

Donations can be made to the Monroe Billington Award in the history department at NMSU.