In memoriam Mary Ella Milham

From: John Geyssen

It is with great sadness that the Department of Classics & Ancient History and UNB Libraries announce the death of Professor Emerita Mary Ella Milham.

Dr. Mary Ella Milham passed away quietly in the early hours of December 9, 2010.  Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, March 22, 1922, she was one of New Brunswick's great imports!  Mary Ella attended Carroll College, earning her BA in 1943, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison (MA 1944, PhD 1950). After teaching at Madison for four years, Mary Ella moved to Fredericton in 1954 to take up a position in UNB's Department of Classics, for which she was Acting Head (1956-57) and later Chair (1983-84). In 1955, she was appointed the first Dean of Women's Residence.  She was Provincial Latin Examiner from 1957-1966, a member of the Atlantic Women's Intercollegiate  Athletic Union beginning in 1955, serving as its President in 1960-61 and 1967-68 and, after serving on the Executive Council of the Classical Association of Canada through most of the 1970s, she became the first woman to be elected President of the CAC (1984-1986). Mary Ella was also elected to the New York Academy of Science in 1986, for her work on Neo-Latin manuscripts, and in 1989 received the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Award. Dr. Milham was the driving force behind the establishment of ARTS 1000, the Faculty of Arts' compulsory course for first-year students, and served as Co-ordinator of the course from 1982 until her retirement in 1987.

Following her retirement, Mary Ella devoted many of her energies and generosity to the UNB Libraries, with a Collection, Lecture Series and an instruction/reading room named after her. In addition, she established a scholarship, the Viator Award, to encourage Classics students to undertake travel study in Classical lands. She was a prolific scholar, working in Latin texts and manuscripts, both Classical and Renaissance, as well as Roman cooking. She became Professor Emerita in 1988.

During her career at UNB she touched the lives of some 10,000 students as well as the lives of the women who lived in the Maggie Jean Chestnut residence. She was an icon, known as much for Roman Banquets with the Classics Club as for her demanding classes and Big Blue Pontiac, which she drove longer than she should have. Into her 80s, Mary Ella continued to make regular trips to campus to take part in Classics events with the department, to attend the Milham Lecture Series at the Harriet Irving Library, or to chat away an afternoon in your office.  In the words of our former Chancellor, Fredrik Eaton, “Some of her students ... were the happy recipients of 'a good education' delivered with passion and understanding.  I count myself as one of those.” As she relates in her book on the history of Classics at UNB, Mary Ella was later told that when she arrived at UNB, bets were placed on her not lasting through her first term. Her legacy suggests one should have taken the long odds.

A memorial service will be held in January, with details to follow.