Tribute to Dr. Dwight Billings

By Dr. Shaunna Scott

Professor Dwight Billings served on the faculty of the University of Kentucky Department of Sociology for 42 years, from 1975 – 2017. A founder of the interdisciplinary field of Appalachian Studies, Professor Billings served on the committee that secured the extramural funding to start the Appalachian Center and Appalachian Studies Program at U.K. Then, he served as the Center’s first Research Director, the first Director of Appalachian Studies, and as the Appalachian Center’s associate director and acting director.

He is the only U.K. faculty member to have earned all three of the University’s most prestigious faculty recognitions, including the UK Chancellor’s Outstanding Teaching Award (for Tenured Faculty, 2000); the 2003 Distinguished Professor of the College of Arts and Sciences award; and the 1993-94 UK Research Professor Award.

In addition to those honors, he has served as the President of the Appalachian Studies Association, Vice President of the Southern Sociological Society, and Editor of the Journal of Appalachian Studies. Also, he and his former UK Sociology colleague, Kathleen Blee, won the Weatherford Award for best non-fiction book on Appalachia for their ground-breaking book, The Road to Poverty: The Making of Wealth and Hardship in an American Region.

For his research, teaching and service to Appalachian Studies, he has won the Appalachian Studies Association’s most prestigious awards, including the Brown / Williams Lifetime Achievement Service Award and the Stephen L. Fisher Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Professor Billings has probably mentored more graduate students in Sociology and Appalachian Studies than any other U.K. faculty, though we cannot say for certain since record-keeping is not a particular strong skill of his. He is, however, skilled at bringing out the best in his students, in developing innovative curriculum, and in tirelessly advocating for Sociology and Appalachian Studies at the University of Kentucky.

His retirement from U.K. in spring 2017 has been the occasion of many celebrations, roastings, and toastings –all of them bittersweet. He will be missed greatly by his many students and his colleagues, all of whom have found him to be a reliable and supportive colleague and mentor.

In acknowledgement for his mentorship, teaching and service, the Department of Sociology at the University of Kentucky has endowed a graduate student scholarship, called the Billings-Hougland Scholarship Gift Fund. This scholarship honors the supportive example set by Professor Billings, a standard to which we all aspire.

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