Funeral services set for journalist Hilburn
Funeral services for Wiley W. Hilburn Jr. will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, at the Presbyterian Church of Ruston, 212 Bonner St. He was 75 years old.
Visitation will be held from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, at Kilpatrick Funeral Home, 209 N. Bonner St.
Hilburn died Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, at Northern Louisiana Medical Center following a brief illness.
He retired from Louisiana Tech in 2009 as journalism professor emeritus. He served as head of the journalism department and director of the news bureau at Tech, where he worked for 41years.
For 50 years until his death, he was a widely read newspaper columnist and editorial writer for Gannett newspapers in North Louisiana.
Hilburn came to Louisiana Tech in 1968 as chairman of the journalism department with what he often referred to as “a mandate” from then Tech President F. Jay Taylor to “liberate The Tech Talk.” He revitalized the Tech journalism program and turned the student newspaper, The Tech Talk, into a nationally award-winning publication.
During his tenure as department head, Hilburn produced more than 600 graduates and supervised the production of some 1,000 issues of The Tech Talk.
“His students were his top priority,” said Dr. Reginald Owens, who succeeded Hilburn as head of the journalism department. “He made us all feel that we were special. And he was always there for us, even after we graduated.”
Owens said Hilburn believed strongly in student free speech and the First Amendment right of free speech.
“He gave us the freedom to voice our opinions, no matter how controversial,” said Owens, a 1970 graduate of the department. “This was a tough thing to do in conservative North Louisiana in the heady days of the late 1960s. Yes, on the issue of free speech, he stood behind us 100 percent.”
Tech President Les Guice said Hilburn played an integral role in helping to make Tech what it is today.
“Wiley was such an important part of our institution for so many years and made an indelible impression on every student and colleague he came in contact with,” Guice said. “I was deeply saddened to hear of Wiley’s passing and share the heavy heart that the entire Tech Family has today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Wiley’s family and to the many who called him friend. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.”
Former Tech President Dan Reneau also reflected on Hilburn’s contribution to Tech.
“Wiley Hilburn was top quality,” Reneau said. “I worked closely with him for many years. His greatest quality was his compassion and his ability to put it in words. This was a gift that he passed on to hundreds of his students.”
Hilburn had an incredible impact on his life and the lives of many others, said Malcolm Butler, Tech associate athletics director for media relations and a former student.
“Wiley loved Louisiana Tech athletics,” Butler said. “Ironically enough, the last conversation I had with Wiley was the Saturday before he passed away. He called me from ICU to find out what time the Lady Techster basketball game started. Typical Wiley. He didn’t want to miss listening to a Tech game. I will miss knowing that win or lose, Wiley is listening and that I will get a phone call from him the next day wanting to discuss the game. It was therapeutic for both of us.”
Hilburn’s first student editor Stan Tiner said his former teacher was good at instilling confidence in his students.
“Wiley helped everyone believe they could be better, do more, and he was their advocate far beyond college, helping them get jobs, and counseling them on the problems on the job, or in life,” said Tiner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning executive editor of the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss. “The essence of Wiley was that he cared.”
Tiner also described him as “the poet/journalist of North Louisiana whose columns painted a portrait of the people and place with moving narratives of the season.”
Rick Hohlt, publisher of The Ruston Daily Leader, recalled Hilburn’s love for and dedication to his students.
“We are all greatly saddened to hear of Wiley’s passing,” Hohlt said. “Over his career as head of the journalism department at Louisiana Tech, his passion of developing young journalists was dear to his heart, not only as they pursued their education but well into their careers. Wiley kept up with many of his students decades after their graduation. Most of them call Wiley their ‘mentor’ – a tribute to the life of Wiley Hilburn.”
Another former student, Kathy Morrow Spurlock, who is also executive editor of The (Monroe) News-Star, said Hilburn always knew how to motivate students.
“Wiley was always able to unlock the key to an individual student’s talents, usually through his intensive creative writing class,” Spurlock said. “But I was one of those students without a true direction. He called me in from The Tech Talk office one day and said, ‘Morrow, here’s the deal. You’ve got talent, but you’re just not applying yourself. You need to decide if this is what you want to do. So I’m going to help you. For the rest of your time here, you are going to either get an “A” or an “F” in my classes. Nothing else.’ Knowing how hard it was for my family to send me to college, I opted for the “A” route and have been happy with that decision ever since.”
His 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 keen observer of Louisiana politics and was initiated into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame. In his roles as reporter, columnist and editorial writer, he 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. He taught a variety of journalism courses, including editing, news writing, feature writing and editorial writing.
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.