Support Local Journalism


Dr. Michael P. Malone, Montana's preeminent historian and the 10th president of Montana State University, died at 1:15 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21, 1999.

Throughout his life, Michael Malone drew strength and pure pleasure from his long relationship with MSU and the people of the state. He was proud to be a Montanan and always enjoyed renewing acquaintances, many of them former students who would go out of their way to greet him after a lecture, after a game or just walking across campus. He saw Montana and Montanans as his extended family. And though he gave little or no thought to his own legacy, his great personal integrity and his impressive writings are a fitting benediction for this century as well as an important lesson for the one that lies ahead.

Malone served for nine years in the presidency and was the first MSU president to preside not only over the original land-grant campus in Bozeman, but also over campuses in Billings, Great Falls and Havre. In total, his administrative responsibility spanned nearly 20,000 students and more than 3,673 faculty and staff. As he was fond of saying, the multi-campus system encompassed an area of Montana about the size of Great Britain.

A man who always amazed his colleagues by his ability to combine administration with serious scholarship, Malone wrote nine books and 20 articles during his distinguished career. At the time of his death, he had a 10th book under contract to Yale University Press, a major work destined to reconceptualize western American history since 1930.

Perhaps best known for his definitive history of the state, "Montana: a History of Two Centuries," written in conjunction with his close friend and colleague, the late Richard Roeder, Malone never lost his special joy in research and the telling of history. In his years as a professor of history first at Texas A&M in 1967 and then at Montana State where he served as head of the Department of History and Philosophy from 1976 to 1979, more than 4,000 students passed through his courses on western history.

He also traveled the length and breadth of the West, lecturing, meeting with local historical societies and bringing the people of the West a new perspective on their past and its implications for the future. His scholarship and commitment to history led two Montana newspapers to list him among the 100 most influential Montanans of the Century. He was the recipient of many other awards and honors for his scholarship and public service.

In 1979, Malone became the dean of graduate studies at MSU; in 1988, interim vice president for academic affairs; and in 1991, after a national search, he was named university president. Throughout it all, he always maintained his other title, Professor of History, and joked with friends that it was his "honest profession."

During his university presidency, Michael Malone literally changed the face of the campus. With an aggressive private fund-raising campaign, Malone accomplished a long-time goal of uniting the campus with the Centennial Mall and its network of walkways, benches, entry gates and landscaping that gave the campus a handsome focus. He worked tirelessly in the Montana Legislature to secure funding for the Engineering Physical Science Building which opened in 1997, as well as authority to build the Agricultural Biosciences Building which opened in 1999 with extensive federal support.

Malone was especially gratified by his work with the Montana congressional delegation on a vast number of university projects. He cited the growth of research as a particular point of pride, often noting that the research enterprise at MSU had grown from barely $13 million in the late 1980s when he was graduate dean to a total exceeding $50 million in the last year of his life.

Malone loved sports almost as much as history. He was a not-so-secret fan of the Dallas Cowboys, but more than anything an ardent Bobcat fan who seldom missed a contest. By 1998, he had accomplished the long-awaited renovation of both the Fieldhouse and the Stadium.

Of his accomplishments as president, Malone himself often cited his strong interest in restructuring the undergraduate core curriculum, the development of the Burns Telecommunications Center and the introduction of active alumni and foundation development programs.

His long record of service to Montana and to the nation nearly fills a book in itself. At the time of his death he was serving on the board of directors of the National Association of State Universities and Land-grant Colleges and chair of the NASULGC International Commission. He was also a member of the Commission on Colleges of the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges; the Montana State University Foundation; the Museum of the Rockies board of trustees; the editorial board of "Montana: The Magazine of Western History"; and the Burton K. Wheeler Center board. He was a member of the Montana Historical Society Board; the Western Association of Graduate Schools; the Montana Committee for the Humanities; the Montana Bicentennial Commission; the Western History Association Executive Council and the editorial boards of the Pacific Northwest Quarterly and the Pacific Historical Review.

Michael P. Malone was born on April 18, 1940, in Pomeroy, a town in southeastern Washington, the son of John and Delores Malone. After completing his bachelor's in history at Gonzaga University, he graduated with a doctorate in American studies from Washington State University in 1966.

Though history and his work as president of Montana's largest university were important, Malone also delighted in his large and wonderfully diverse family, especially his grandchildren. He had an especially close relationship with his father. When he was inaugurated as MSU's president in October 1991, he thanked his mother, Deb, for attending and made special mention that he wished his father could have been with him, calling John Malone the finest man he ever knew. Both John and Deb preceded Michael in death.

Michael was John and Deb's only son, but he is survived by three half-brothers and a half sister. The Bowman children were taken in by the Malones when their own parents were killed in a tragic accident. The family includes Ray and Barb Bowman of Littleton, Colo.; Wynn and Becky Bowman, also of Littleton; Jenny Denny of Pomeroy and Kevin Bowman of Walnut Creek, Calif. The Bowmans have 12 children and three grandchildren among them. Michael's own stepfather, Ron Chard, also remains in Pomeroy.

Michael is survived by his daughter, Molly and her husband, Forest Ehlinger and their children, Bryce and Zachery, who live in Auburn, Wash.; and his son, Thomas and wife, Eriko, who live in Japan with their children, Miguel and Shane.

On April 18, 1983, Michael married his much-loved Kathleen Campbell. His family grew to include Kathy's children, Clint and Kristi Campbell of Bozeman and their son Ian; Molly and Kevin Nave, who live in Spokane with his children, Ashley and Stephanie; and Wendy and Dennis Dougherty, who also live in Spokane with their son, Campbell.

Services are pending.

Those interested in memorials are asked to contribute to a scholarship for an MSU history student. Donations may be sent to the MSU Foundation.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.