Homage to the Life and Memory of
Michael Peter Malone

[Editor's Note: In honor of MSU President Mike Malone, we are pleased to offer the following excerpts from the homage to him written and given by Pierce Mullen (History, MSU-Bozeman, Emeritus). Malone suffered a fatal heart attack in December 1999.]

Mike Malone was first and foremost a writer. He knew the story of the Book of Kells and Padraic Colum's poem:

First, make a letter like a monument--
An upright like the fast-held hewn stone
Immovable...Then, on a page made golden as--the crown
Of sainted man, a scripture you enscroll,
Blackly, firmly, with the quickened skill
Lessoned by famous masters of our school.

When he visited Trinity College in Dublin, Mike saw these famous pages, and he must have felt very much at home with those Irish monks, who wrote, as one chronicler put it, "with pens guided by angels."

Mike grew up in this agricultural community, very near where Lewis and Clark trekked on their way to the Pacific. He worked for the Jolly Green Giant in those steep and hilly pea fields and loved, as kids did, to play practical jokes on his fellows with the super-cold anhydrous ammonia used as fertilizer. A frozen tennis shoe or tool brought howls of laughter. Just up the road was Spokane, and he knew of the wise words uttered by the Indian leader of that name. Northwest tribes had more often than not welcomed theologians and the Jesuits had long established a presence in the rail and retail center of Spokane.

Gonzaga offered Mike a full buffet of ideas and approaches to a life of the mind. The imprint of Jesuit theology became palpable when you searched it out. He was, of all things, a disciplined Irishman. Those military-like instructions of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, formed the core of Mike Malone's work and character. Organization, precision, efficiency, and calm shine forth as visible hallmarks of that training. He bore that imprint for the rest of his life. Everyone to whom I have talked about Mike has the identical impression: compulsive neatness. You never saw him with a desk full of clutter--you never saw him ruffled, hurried, disorganized. He could turn in an instant from one topic to another, and return as quickly to the middle of the sentence on which he was working on when you interrupted. It was uncanny and sometimes scary. Most of us simply do not operate that way. It was as if he had a mind like the parts bins in his father's auto dealership. His father, John, had great influence on him, and when he was inaugurated as President at MSU, Mike came as close to public sentiment as he ever did when he acknowledged that influence. The sense of tragedy which underlies the heart of every Irishman was never far from Mike. His father's cardiac problems were much on Mike's mind, but more important was the sense of what he had lost in the early death of that man. He wanted John's approval, his unconditional love. That masculine side of Mike most likely was not apparent to many of you, but it was at the core of his being. He was never a great athlete, never the star--he was a scholar and it takes time for nature to reveal those gifts. His father just missed seeing that great harvest.

So these are some of the things we celebrate. It is not possible to recreate the color, the verve, that enlarged sense of being we all associate with Michael Peter Malone. It is wrong too, simply to associate all that he was and all that he did with words and print. He loved administration--the use of power to do those things he thought important. He absorbed the land grant ethos early and never lost it. These were his people. In practical terms he liked building things. In a subconscious manner, these structures may be a reflection of his views that this tough western environment shaped emotions and ideas: men and women were slow to change, but provide the new environments and change would come.

Like most successful executives, Mike knew how to delegate work and he habitually surrounded himself with capable, friendly and efficient staff. Any visitor to his office as President of MSU would find a relaxed and open atmosphere. He wore his authority easily, and visitors instinctively knew that he would welcome reasonable suggestions, ideas, and approaches. He was so deeply committed to public education that it was second nature. He better than most knew of the flaws, the missed opportunities, the weaker links. His crusade was for the best possible education for the dollar that Montana State University could deliver.

It is difficult for me to convey the quality of friendship some of us were privileged to share with Mike Malone. In a clumsy attempt to lighten a heavy heart. I wore a little pin in my lapel today. Mike always had a pin of one sort or another in his lapel. Sometimes it was a little American flag, other times a Charlie Russell buffalo head, reminding him of the important role the Montana State Historical Society had in his life. Other times he would just joke about the little totem he wore. One time I asked him about an unusual, odd, little pin. He said he thought it commemorated the last case of peas put up by the Red Lodge cannery in 1952. That was typical of him: wear knowledge and fame lightly for it is God given, not man made.

Tempting indeed is to speak of Mike through his own words, to quote at length from some of the beautiful passages in his many works. Someday someone will publish a selection of this type. In 1996 he published his study of the empire builder, James J. Hill, and he dedicated it to his friend and colleague, Richard B. Roeder, who did not live to see the work published. As a fitting bookend to the life of our friend and colleague Mike Malone, here in his words, is the last sentence of that biography:

"We shall never see his like again, and that simple fact adds yet another dimension to the fascination of his life...."

Pierce C. Mullen
Monday, 27 December 1999

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