US aca­demic Dr James Billing­ton, 89

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - FAMILY ANNOUNCEMENTS -

James Hadley Billing­ton, one of the world’s fore­most Rus­sian his­to­ri­ans and a lead­ing Amer­i­can aca­demic and au­thor, has died in Wash­ing­ton, DC. He was 89.

Dr Billing­ton served as the 13th Li­brar­ian of Congress af­ter be­ing nom­i­nated by pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan in 1987, an ap­point­ment unan­i­mously ap­proved by the US Se­nate. He re­tired as li­brar­ian on Septem­ber 30, 2015.

Over a 28-year pe­riod, he founded the Na­tional Book Fes­ti­val with First Lady Laura Bush, the John Kluge Cen­ter and Prize for the Study of Humanity, the Gersh­win Prize, and the Na­tional Au­dio Vis­ual Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter.

Through­out a life ded­i­cated to schol­ar­ship and ser­vice, dur­ing which he served ev­ery pres­i­dent and Congress since the 1960s un­til his re­tire­ment, Dr Billing­ton played a unique role in pre­serv­ing, pro­mot­ing, and shar­ing Amer­ica’s rich cul­tural her­itage.

Born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, he was ed­u­cated in Philadel­phia-area pub­lic schools. He was vale­dic­to­rian at Lower Me­rion High School and Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity, where he grad­u­ated with high­est hon­ours in 1950. In 1953, he earned a mod­ern Rus­sian his­tory doc­tor­ate from Bal­liol Col­lege of Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

Dr Billing­ton re­ceived 42 hon­orary de­grees, as well as the US Pres­i­den­tial Cit­i­zen’s Medal, the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion’s Or­der of Friend­ship and the French Che­va­lier of the Le­gion of Honor.

Fol­low­ing US Army ser­vice in Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower’s Of­fice of Na­tional Es­ti­mates, he taught his­tory at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity from 1957 to 1962, and at Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity, where he was a pro­fes­sor from 1964 to 1974.

From 1973 to 1987, Dr Billing­ton was di­rec­tor of the Woodrow Wilson In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Schol­ars, where he founded the Ken­nan In­sti­tute for Ad­vanced Rus­sian Stud­ies, seven other new pro­grammes, and the Wilson Quar­terly.

He spent more than 50 years help­ing Amer­ica’s lead­ers and cit­i­zens bet­ter un­der­stand the for­mer Soviet Union and its suc­ces­sor states, con­tribut­ing to a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica’s val­ues and in­sti­tu­tions in coun­tries stretch­ing across onethird of the globe.

He first vis­ited Rus­sia in 1958 and ac­com­pa­nied the pres­i­dent and first lady, Ron­ald and Nancy Rea­gan, to Moscow in 1988 for Rea­gan’s sum­mit meet­ing with Mikhail Gor­bachev.

Dur­ing his 28-year ten­ure at the Li­brary of Congress, Dr Billing­ton en­larged and tech­no­log­i­cally en­hanced pub­lic spa­ces in the Thomas Jef­fer­son Build­ing, re­pur­pos­ing it as a na­tional ex­hi­bi­tion venue that hosted more than 100 ex­hi­bi­tions, many fea­tur­ing ma­te­ri­als never be­fore pub­licly dis­played in Amer­ica.

He dou­bled the size of the li­brary’s tra­di­tional ana­log col­lec­tions to more than 160 mil­lion items and over­saw innovative preser­va­tion ini­tia­tives.

He pi­o­neered the re­con­struc­tion of Thomas Jef­fer­son’s orig­i­nal li­brary, us­ing pri­vate funds raised from the li­brary’s James Madison Coun­cil, which he founded.

Dr Billing­ton also founded the Open World Lead­er­ship Cen­ter, which en­abled more than 27,000 Eurasian lead­ers to en­gage and learn from the demo­cratic process.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, he cre­ated a mas­sive new Li­brary of Congress on­line pres­ence and launched a se­ries of innovative li­brary pro­grammes to share the ed­u­ca­tional riches of the li­brary with mil­lions of Amer­i­cans and the world.

He is sur­vived by his wife of 61 years, Mar­jorie Anne Bren­nan, whom he de­scribed as his “in­dis­pens­able full part­ner in ev­ery way and at ev­ery stage of his adult life”, four chil­dren and 12 grand­chil­dren.

Trib­utes were paid by lead­ing na­tional and in­ter­na­tional fig­ures.

Mrs Laura W Bush said: “Pres­i­dent Bush and I are sad­dened to learn that the United States has lost Dr James Billing­ton.

“Dr Billing­ton served as our na­tion’s li­brar­ian for 28 years, lead­ing the Li­brary of Congress’ tran­si­tion into the dig­i­tal age.”

Nancy Pelosi, US House Demo­cratic leader, said: “The pass­ing of Dr James Billing­ton is a pro­found loss for his fam­ily and loved ones as well as for our na­tion. Over the course of his long and pro­lific ca­reer, Dr Billing­ton be­came a tire­less stew­ard for Amer­i­can his­tory, help­ing pro­tect and pre­serve our na­tion’s most trea­sured past for gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­cans.”

Dr Billing­ton was a lead­ing au­thor.

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