By: Kay Ledbetter
Beth Ann Luedeker
Leaves legacy of soil scientists
Murray Milford, Ph.D., professor and former associate head for academic programs with the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University, died Aug. 20.
Milford retired in 2001 after more than 32 years of service at Texas A&M, but remained in the department as Professor Emeritus. While teaching, he touched the lives of more than 17,000 students in Agronomy 301 and 1,100 graduate students who passed through the department with Milford serving as their graduate adviser.
Julie Howe, Ph.D., former student ’95 and now Texas A&M AgriLife Research soil chemistry and fertility associate professor at Texas A&M, said she owes her career to Milford through his ability to show how soil science was at the intersection of many different disciplines.
“I’m a soil scientist because of him, as I would have never considered a career in soil science before his class,” Howe said. “Also, when I tell former Aggies what I do, invariably they respond with ‘I took this soil science class with this guy. He was amazing. Do you know him?’”
Something she and others recall is that he never forgot his students – he remembered everyone’s name long after they left the university.
“It was sometimes a little spooky how he’d call you out by name in a class of over 100 students only a few weeks into the semester,” Howe said.
Cristine Morgan, Ph.D., former Texas A&M soil scientist and now chief scientific officer for the Soil Health Institute, agreed that Milford touched the lives of many of the department’s alumni and also piqued her interest in soil as a profession.
“He changed my stereotypes of soil science,” Morgan said. “My reverence for what he did for soil science at TAMU is overwhelming to me right now. We have so many loyal alumni because of him. I witnessed that any time I called a farmer and needed to grab a soil sample or dig a pit. They knew Dr. Milford and would always ask about him.”
Milford and his wife, Marsha, established the Marsha and Murray Milford Graduate Endowment in Soil and Crop Sciences to benefit students pursuing graduate degrees in soil science at Texas A&M in 2002. So far seven students have benefited from this endowment, with several students receiving it more than one year.
“Receiving the Milford endowment was a great honor for me, and I am grateful to their contribution as it was a tremendous help to my Ph.D. program,” said doctoral student Aditi Pandey, a graduate research assistant and the most recent endowment recipient. “Meeting both Dr. and Mrs. Milford was a joy. They both were warm and welcoming, and even invited me to their family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I feel blessed to have been part of their endowment and am deeply sorry for Mrs. Milford’s loss.”
Milford so endeared himself to his students that they named for him a Texas A&M University Fish Camp, which introduces incoming freshmen to Aggieland in a summer-camp setting. Also Room 101 in the Heep Center was named The Murray H. Milford Teaching Auditorium by the Texas A&M to honor his service.
“Dr. Milford is one of the most recognized soil science instructors in the world, known not only for outstanding teaching, but also for his recognition of students and their hometown by the third class each year, and then recognizing family members who attended his class a generation or more later,” said David Baltensperger, Ph.D., Soil and Crop Sciences Department head. “His legacy in soil science will live for many generations.”
Milford earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy from Texas A&M in 1955 and 1959, respectively, and a doctorate in soil science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1962.
He began his professional career at Cornell University in a postdoctoral position. While there, he advanced to assistant professor and then associate professor. He returned to Texas A&M and the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences as an associate professor of soil science in 1968, earning promotion to professor in 1974.
In addition to teaching, Milford served the department as the associate head for academic programs and was the interim department head from Sept. 1, 1999 through Jan. 31, 2001.
Milford was a member of several professional societies in which he held a variety of offices. He earned the designation of Fellow in the American Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
He also received numerous honors and awards, including being the first individual to receive three university level Distinguished Achievement Awards from the Texas A&M University Association of Former Students – two for teaching, 1972 and 1994, and one for student relationships, 1988. He also received the Agronomic Resident Education Award, the Soil Science Education Award and the Southern Region Teaching Award.
For those wishing to honor Milford, the family requests memorials “In honor of Dr. Murray Milford ‘55” be made to the Texas A&M Foundation, 401 George Bush Drive, College Station, Texas 77840. Please include the account information in the memo line of the check as: account #04-57499 or account name, Marsha and Murray Milford ’55 Graduate Endowment in Soil and Crop Sciences, or go online to https://give.am/MilfordGradEndSoilCrops.