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Remembering Wiley Hilburn (1938-2014)

January 24, 2014

 

Wiley Funeral2Kaleb Causey
Editor-in-Chief

 

Former Louisiana Tech journalism department head and Louisiana Political Hall of Fame inductee Wiley W. Hilburn Jr. died Jan. 16 at the Northern Louisiana Medical Center in Ruston at the age of 75.

 

He retired from Tech in 2009 as journalism professor emeritus. He served as head of the journalism department and director of the news bureau at Tech for 41 years.

 

For 50 years until his death, he was a columnist and editorial writer for Gannett newspapers in North Louisiana.

 

Dr. Dan Reneau, president emeritus of Tech, said Hilburn was one of his closest friends and was an adviser to Reneau at times.

 

“He had a profound impact on Tech,” Reneau said. “He was not only the head of the journalism department; he guided The Tech Talk and was the press officer for the university.”

 

At the age of 30 Hilburn took over the journalism department in 1968 under the late Tech President F. Jay Taylor, who Hilburn often said gave him “a mandate to liberate The Tech Talk.”

 

During his time at Tech, Hilburn oversaw more than 600 graduates, supervised the production of nearly 1,000 issues of The Tech Talk and turned the student newspaper into a nationally award-winning publication.

 

Many family, friends, and colleagues gathered to pay their respects at Wiley Hilburn's funeral held in the Presbyterian Church of Ruston. – Photo by Devin Dronett

Many family, friends and colleagues gathered to pay their respects at Wiley Hilburn’s funeral held in the Presbyterian Church of Ruston. – Photo by Devin Dronett

Dr. Reginald Owens, current chair of the journalism department, was a 1970 graduate under Hilburn and worked with him for many years before taking over for Hilburn after his retirement.

 

“More than anybody else in my life, Wiley Hilburn had the greatest impact on my professional development and my career in journalism,” Owens said. “His best gift to me was courage. Through his own actions and own words, and his approach to life and journalism, he showed me what courage was.”

 

During his undergraduate time as a columnist for The Tech Talk, Owens was an outspoken supporter of civil rights and black activism. Hilburn was always a supporter of Owens and was criticized for it when a cross was burned in his yard one evening.

 

“(Courage) was so important during the era when he taught me – a period that demanded you stand up and be heard on the tough issues of the day, and more importantly that you be on the right side of the issue,” Owens said. “Of course, one can argue about what the right side is when it is happening. The final arbiter, however, is time. History has spoken. Wiley, you were right. Thank you.”

 

Hilburn’s vision of the school newspaper and the department paper was partly due to his own distinguished career as an editor, reporter, columnist and editorial writer. He worked for The (Shreveport) Times, The (Monroe) News-Star, the Associated Press, The Monroe Morning World and The Ruston Daily Leader. He also wrote three books during his journalistic career.

 

During this 50-plus-year career, he earned a reputation as a popular voice on Louisiana politics and is one of few journalists in the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame.

 

In his roles as reporter, columnist and editorial writer, has interviewed every governor of the state of Louisiana since Earl K. Long.

 

In 2009, he was named the College of Liberal Arts Alumnus of the Year. Hilburn received the 1993 Louisiana Tech Alumni Foundation Award for Outstanding Teacher. He served for many years on Tech’s Administrative Council and the Athletics Council.

 

Hilburn is a 1960 graduate of Tech with a bachelor’s in journalism. He received a master’s in journalism in 1962 from Louisiana State University.

 

He is survived by his wife, Kate Sartor Hilburn, and his three children, Greg, Kevin and Anne Marie.

 

Email comments to ktc013@latech.edu.

 

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