Mike Malone was remembered Thursday as a rare historian who actually made history as Montana State University's 10th president.
Professor Bob Rydell, who holds the MSU history chair named for Malone, made the comment during a talk held at the Museum of the Rockies to honor Malone, who led MSU as president from 1991 until his death in 1999.
William Lang, a Portland State University history professor who knew Malone for more than 30 years, said Malone believed in the power of stories. He had an amazing ability to memorize stories, to connect with people and to speak for an hour without notes on Montana history. He was smart, competitive, charming, a graceful writer and "a ribald joke teller," Lang said.
As part of MSU's homecoming activities, Malone will be celebrated today at 2 p.m. with the dedication of the Michael Malone Centennial Mall, renamed in his honor to recognize his leadership in transforming MSU. The mall's construction replaced the city street that cut through the center of campus with a more attractive pedestrian walkway, benches, trees and gates.
The mall united the campus, said President Waded Cruzado, who added that the ceremony will take place on the south side of Montana Hall. She called Malone one of Montana's "preeminent" historians.
In addition to writing nine history books, Malone is remembered for overseeing MSU's growth in the 1990s, winning money from the Legislature to build the Engineering and Physical Sciences building, renovating the fieldhouse and Bobcat Stadium, and overseeing research growth from $13 million to $50 million. Two state newspapers named him to their lists of the 100 most influential Montanans.
Malone also co-authored in 1976 the definitive history book, "Montana A History of Two Centuries," which was revised in 1991. Lang and a colleague are now updating it again.
About 150 of Malone's family members, friends, colleagues and fellow historians gathered for the museum lecture.
Lang said he first met Malone, then 24, at Washington State University in Pullman, where they were graduate students. What intrigued Malone most in history was power, but he also had a passion for the arts. He could recite from memory bawdy Irish songs and T.S. Eliot's poetry.
After earning a Ph.D. in American studies, Malone worked for a short stint in Texas, and then came to Montana to teach.
One of Malone's most important books was "The Battle for Butte," Lang said. Malone rejected the idea that Montana had been a "one-company state," completely controlled by the Anaconda copper company. He argued that the way historians had traditionally looked at Butte, focusing on the war between the copper kings and their personalities, hid the more important story, which was the consolidation of copper properties.
Malone challenged historians to look at the history of the West in new ways and to look at the global picture, which sparked arguments at history conferences, Lang said. Malone argued that local problems in Butte couldn't explain the collapse of mining, the West's oldest industry. Instead he found that the truth was "the power of global capitalism."
It took Malone, emerging from the "last, best place," to "instruct Yale and Harvard historians how to rethink history," Lang said.
Malone died of a heart ailment at age 59. If he were still alive, Lang said, he'd be watching CNN, Fox News, PBS and "The Colbert Report" and analyzing them all with great wit.
Malone always believed, Lang said, that "history matters, and it matters what stories are told."
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.