George Billias
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George Athan Billias, 99

Worcester - George Athan Billias, 99, Professor emeritus of American History at Clark University died on Thursday, August 16th at home. Born in Lynn, he was the son of Greek immigrants, Athan Billias and Grammatiki Papadakis. A prolific scholar, Billias was best known for his magnum opus, American Constitutionalism Heard Round the World,

1776-1989; A Global Perspective. At the time of his death, he was working on a second volume, American Constitutional Influence of Britain and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. His pioneering work traced the extraordinary spread of American constitutionalism throughout the globe from the rise of the American Revolution to the constitutional revolution in Britain in 2010. The first volume was well received by leading scholars. Gordon Wood (Brown) called it a "monumental study," while Robert Middlekauf (Berkeley) described it as "Monumental" and added, "a marvelous book." David Armitage (Harvard) wrote that "a work of this scale is unlikely ever again to be undertaken by an individual author, let alone one with such authority and experience." [The book] "is a heroic endeavor whose results will be debated and plundered by generations of scholars to come, and whose wider audience may help encourage a broader consciousness of America's more benign contributions to the contemporary world." In 2010 the New England Historical Association named it the book-of-the-year with the Hanlan Prize.

Besides these two books, Billias authored, edited and co-edited fourteen other volumes in biography, military, history, historiography, and American constitutional history. His biography of General John Glover, whose Marblehead mariners ferried Washington across the Delaware in 1776, was selected as one of "240 outstanding books on 1960" by the New York Times. He also completed a biography of Elbridge Gerry, Singer of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Massachusetts, Vice President of the United States and politician of "gerrymandering" fame. Billia's interest in the Revolutionary War led to his editing several volumes of collected essays on American and British generals and admirals later combined as George Washington's Generals and Opponents. He co-edited with a colleague, Gerald N. Grob, a two-volume work on American historiography, Interpretations of American History, that became that leading readings books of its kind for almost four decades. His memoir entitled Scholar, Soldier, and Sire covers the major segments of his professional and personal life.

Upon his retirement from Clark in 1989, a symposium attended by more than 100 scholars in early American history was held in his honor at the American Antiquarian Society. Papers presented were published in a volume entitled The Republican Synthesis Revisited: Essays in Honor of George Athan Billias. He was a member of the Council of the Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, the National Bicentennial Commission, and elected the membership of the American Antiquarian Society, Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Recipient of numerous academic awards and honors, he was granted fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for Humanities and Huntington Library. Proud of his Greek-American heritage, Billias served for many years as a board member of the Hellenic Arts Society in Worcester.

After graduation from Lynn English High in 1937, Billias entered the Army in September 1941. Following basic training, he served as an enlisted man in the Headquarters Command of General George S. Patton. Commissioned a Medical Administrative Officer in 1942, he was assigned to the 9th Armored Division and placed in command of a platoon of ten ambulances. Serving in the European theater, he was involved in two of the greatest land battles of the war – the Battle of the Bulge and the capture of the Remagen Bridge. In the Bulge, he was in Bastogne before it was surrounded by German forces. Four ambulance drivers under his command were captured but miraculously recovered four months later deep inside Germany. For its role in helping to hold off the surprise German attack during the Bulge, the combat command in which Billias served was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation of "Extraordinary heroism and gallantry in action."

At the Remagen Bridge, Billias was involved in evacuating casualties from the bridge whose span was the only remaining one across the Rhine. The bridge had not been crossed by enemy forces since the day of Napoleon. German artillery fire was extremely heavy, and the ambulance in which Billias was riding was struck by shrapnel. The driver was wounded, and shell fragments narrowly missed Billias, but he escaped without serious injury. Despite the intense artillery barrages, Billias kept moving wounded men to safety. For his heroism, he was awarded the Bronze Star whose citation read: "His praiseworthy work in the establishment of a collecting point on the east bank of the Rhine and a ferrying system across the Rhine contributed materially to the rapid treatment and the alleviation of the suffering of the wounded."

The 9th Armored, one of the spearheading divisions into Germany, liberated a number of camps containing Allied prisoners, displaced persons, and victims of the Holocaust. His grim wartime experience, Billias once said, was the defining moment of his life. After witnessing man's inhumanity to man, he was determined to dedicate himself to helping humankind in some way.

After leaving the Army, Billias attended Bates College, graduated in 1948 and married his classmate, Joyce Anne Baldwin, that same year. He attended Columbia University, where he received his M.A. in 1949 and his Ph.D. later in 1958. Unable to find a college teaching position, he moved with his family first to Colorado Springs, where he held a position as a civilian military historian with the Air Defense Command and later to Newburgh, New York, with the Eastern Air Defense Force.

His wartime past was linked to his decision to become a college professor so that he could work with young people. His first teaching position was at the University of Maine in Orono, where he taught from 1954-1961. In 1962 he accepted the position of Director of the American History graduate program at Clark University, where he taught for 27 years and held the chair as the Jacob and Frances Hiatt Professor.

An exuberant lecturer, he had a passion for history and conveyed his enthusiasm in the classroom. One former student established the George Billias Prize in his honor, given annually for the best undergraduate paper. Close to his students, Billias liked to think of himself as the "other elbow" in the "elbow teaching" for which Clark is noted.

After 28 years of happy married life, his first wife, Joyce, contracted breast cancer and died tragically in 1976 at age 50. After remaining a widower for a decade, Billias in 1986 he met and married Margaret Rose Neussendorfer, a fellow professor, Yale Ph.D., and scholar in American Studies. Without her love, inspiration, and dedication, Billias acknowledged, his work on American constitutionalism could not have been completed.

Billias is survived by his loving wife, Margaret, and three creative and caring children: Stephen Billias and his wife, Bela Breslau of Deerfield; Athan Billias and his wife, Keiko Ikeda of Aliso Viejo, CA and Nancy Billias of Manchester, CT. Billias also leaves three grandchildren: Scott Athan Billias and Alisha Nancy Billias of Victoria, Canada and Sophia Rachel Billias of Cleveland, OH. Instead of flowers, contributions may be made to the George and Margaret Billias Scholarship Fund, established for talented but needy students in American history and American Studies at Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610. There are no calling hours. A celebration of Billias' life will be held at Clark University in the fall. O'CONNOR BROTHERS FUNERAL HOME, 592 Park Avenue is directing arrangements.

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Published in Worcester Telegram & Gazette from Aug. 17 to Aug. 19, 2018.
Celebration of Life
01:00 - 03:00 PM
Clark University
Memories & Condolences
Guest Book sponsored by Professor David A. Jones
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20 entries
February 19, 2019
Bruce Blaney
February 19, 2019
My life long mentor and inspiration.
Bruce Blaney
October 13, 2018
Dr. Billias greeted my Parents with me on my first day at Clark University, standing beside President Dr. Howard B. Jefferson. He served as my advisor across by A.B. studies, allowed me to attend his fabulous M.A. courses as an undergraduate. In my entire academic career, always I have thought of him, he was my inspiration. Most of his publications always are on my Syllabi, it was my immense privilege to have known Dr. Billias, to have been his advisee, to have come to an enlightened understanding of America and its influence around the world because of him and of what he taught. My hope had been to have met once more, but I have only been in the United States once for a week in 16 years, that was last year. He will be greatly missed not only by American students but by students of America whom his works have inspired worldwide.
David A. Jones
September 2, 2018
May your hearts soon be filled with wonderful memories of joyful times together as you celebrate a life well lived.
Aram Kalousdian
August 31, 2018
Fond memories of a lovely man, devoted scholar, exemplary human being.
Len & Priscilla Cirillo
August 31, 2018
Leonard Cirillo
August 28, 2018
Dear Margaret and all members of George's family, My heartfelt condolences on your loss. I first met George in the early 1950s when he was a civilian historian at the Eastern Air Defense Force in Stewart Air Force Base, Newburgh, NY, and I was an enlisted man serving as historian of the 32nd Air Division in Syracuse. He and his professional colleagues--Maj Norman Cawse-Morgan, John D R Platt and Milton Klein, among others--taught me the fundamentals of historical endeavor. George in particular took a personal interest in my development--a foretaste of his eminent career as a teacher and scholar at Bates College and Clark University. It was he who encouraged me to apply to graduate school when I left the Air Force, which led me to a PhD at the University of Chicago and the beginning of my career at UCLA in 1959. Now in my 90th year I moderate seminars in values based leadership for the Aspen Institute very much in the spirit of George Billias. I cannot tell you what a blessing it has been to have him as a friend and mentor.
Keith Berwick
August 28, 2018
I was fortunate to have Dr. Billias as my history professor at Clark University in 1976. His dignity in juggling a professor's challenging duties while his wife was succumbing to cancer was inspirational and touching -- a shining example of how a university experience can be far more than just a student's opportunity to benefit from pure academics.

I hear his accent as clearly today as I did 42 years ago. What a noble man, and a superb history lecturer! May his family be bolstered by a wealth of enriching, uplifting memories of this great man.
Matt Poole
August 27, 2018
Family and friends of George Billias, you have my sympathy. May his memory be for a blessing to all those whose lives he touched.
August 26, 2018
To his family, my deepest condolence, and may our god of love and mercy bring great peace and comfort. Psalms 9:9
August 26, 2018
I met George in 1976. I adored him as soon as I met him, and that feeling deepened as the years passed. We will all miss him. We were all blessed to know him. Love to his family. Libbi Lepow
Libbi Lepow
August 26, 2018
To the Billias Family: My heartfelt sympathies go out to the family and friends during this difficult time. I hope that the promise in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 can bring comfort. Knowing that there's a hope for the ones we have lost in death can be so reassuring.
August 23, 2018
Dr. Billias was a man of great integrity, humor, kindness and intellect. I especially remember he and his family from my teenage days in Worcester as our wonderful neighbors and friends. Dr. Billias will be greatly missed by many.
August 21, 2018
I well remember your trip to Michigan years ago, Uncle George and Aunt Marge. You came to my home and if I remember correctly you borrowed my car for a day. You enjoyed your trip to MI meeting the relatives here. You will be missed, Uncle George. Aunt Marge you have my love, support and prayers. Love, Jane
Jane Neussendorfer
August 20, 2018
I remember my last time w/Uncle George and Aunt Margie was when I was in Boston for a medical consult at Mass.General with my better half ,David. They took David and I out to eat one afternoon, Uncle George made me feel so comfortable in his part of town and his concerns were with me all the time. We all had a wonderful afternoon,just talking and getting to know one another and taking my mind off things to come. I was so grateful to both of them for giving me that extra family support.
Since then has only been emails and a few phone calls but the family bond had been made.Rest in peace Uncle George!!!We love you!!You will be missed.
jeanne ladd
August 20, 2018
Professor Billias was a remarkably good and patient educator and a wonderfully caring and gentle soul. I had the privilege of being his student. Prof. Billias' work made a difference to the students who he taught, and he will be missed.
Lee Plave
August 19, 2018
Gary Overvold
August 17, 2018
What a wonderful husband George was to Aunt Marge. My sympathy to Aunt Marge and all the family.
Marie Fraune
August 17, 2018
I will miss you deeply my friend.The love you gave to your family and friends was beyond compare.Margaret and family I am so sorry for the passing of this truly humble and great man.
George was one of a kind and I am so greatful I met him and his wonderful family.
I love you George. rest in peace my friend.
Nancy Krull
August 17, 2018
Nancy Krull
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