Dr. William F. Millington graduated from Bogota High School in Bogota, New Jersey in 1940, and clearly had an interest in botany from the start of his academic career. Dr. Millington worked in landscape and nursery work before going to Rutgers for his bachelor’s degree. He earned his bachelors in Preparation for Research in Agriculture in 1947. In June of 1947, Dr. Millington married Catherine Hewitt. He continued to study at Rutgers, earning his masters in Botany in 1949. Dr. Millington’s master’s thesis was written on the structure and development of the vegetative shoot tip in Liriodendron tulipifera (American tulip tree). At this point in his academic career, he went on to study Botany/Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, and under the direction of Dr. R.H. Roberts and Dr. Emma L. Fisk, Dr. Millington earned his Ph.D. in 1952, writing his thesis on shoot development in Xanthium pennsylvanicum (cocklebur). Dr. Millington also served as a research associate at the Roscoe B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory from 1951-1953 in Bar Harbor, Maine, in the lab of Philip R. White. Here he worked in cancer research of woody tumors affecting Picea glauca (white spruce) trees. Before coming to Marquette University in 1959, Millington served as an assistant professor of botany at the University of Wisconsin for 4 years.
When the Marquette Biology Department performed their faculty search for a plant biologist during the 1958-59 academic year, they placed their high hopes for the development of plant anatomy in the department in Dr. Millington’s appointment. Millington was apparently a sought after faculty member, as in 1959 he was invited to enter negotiations for a position at Yale University. He did remain at Marquette, and developed his research program in the early 1960’s.
In department chair Dr. J. W. Saunder’s 1960 Biology Department Annual Report, Dr. Millington was described as a “devoted and effective teacher with a wide range of interests in scientific and cultural endeavors, who is popular with students and faculty alike. He recently was awarded a substantial grant from the National Science Foundation to aid in the pursuit of his investigations.” That substantial grant of $32,000 was awarded in 1961, for Dr. Millington’s work with shoot development in perennial plants. Dr. Millington looked at how environmental factors influenced the cytology of the shoot apex, and how this affected the form of the shoot that emerged. Leaves on any particular plant may vary substantially for many reasons including age, reproduction, and environmental influence. This work led to a number of publications, including “On the determination of leaf form in an aquatic heterophyllous species of Ranunculus”, published in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club in 1962. In recognition of his efforts, Dr. Millington was promoted to Associate Professor of Biology in 1963.
In 1965 Dr. Millington led a 6 week summer program for elementary school teachers on life science, ecology, and conservation worth 6 graduate credits. The first 3 weeks consisted of labs and lectures on campus at Marquette, and the second 3 weeks were spent in the fields and forests of the Trees for Tomorrow Conservation Camp in Eagle River, WI.
By 1966, Dr. Millington was producing significant research results, supported by NSF grants, and was an active participant in the meetings of professional societies, including the Botanical Society of America. In September 1969, Dr. Millington was appointed full professor.
In the spring of 1969, Dr. Millington was awarded a grant for $18,300 from NSF to fund his research project on the “Differentiation of Structural Patterns in Cells and Tissues”. Dr. Millington wanted to understand how cells work, and what controlled their life cycle. Many of the papers Dr. Millington published during the 1970’s and 1980’s analyzed the form and pattern development of the cell wall, using the genus of green algae, Pediastrum, as a model system. He was especially interested in the difference in cell shapes, and pattern formation in the cell wall structure. Pediastrum grows in flat disc shaped colonies, and in some species of Pediastrum, the outer ring of cells in a colony has prong like protuberances on each cell. The internal cells do not have these structures. When colonies form, Dr. Millington wanted to find out where and when these differences in cell wall patterns occurred. Some species also form a reticulate triangular pattern in the structure of their cell walls. Dr. Millington’s research looked at how this pattern formed, and what cellular processes initiated the formation. Former Marquette Greenhouse director, Dennis Lukaszewski remembers helping grow Dr. Millington’s samples of Pediastrum. The growth room used to regulate the algae’s photoperiod was filled with large Erlenmeyer flasks containing the glowing green and orange samples. Jim DiOrio, who studied under Dr. Millington for both his undergraduate and master’s degrees also remembers, “It all looked very scientific”.
In many ways, Dr. Millington was very laid back. He was always approachable, and a teacher who could really help a student learn how to do science. He also could be very fastidious, and had certain routines that he stood by. Every day at 10:00am was Dr. Millington’s coffee break. He was always after the perfect cup of coffee, even before that was in vogue. Jim Di Orio remembers that one couldn’t just grab your coffee and run, Dr. Millington wanted to sit down and talk about life, movies and politics. Di Orio also remembers the three trips that Dr. Millington took each and every year. He brought his students on a mushroom collection, a fossil hunt, and to a bog near Lake Beulah in southern Wisconsin. Each trip had its traditions. Dr. Millington was an expert on identifying edible fungi, and on the mushroom trip, no mushroom could be consumed until it passed his inspection. On the fossil trip Dr. Millington knew exactly what to look for, and at the bog, the group would go bog surfing. The bog Dr. Millington led the trip to was a quaking bog, with a thick mat of sphagnum moss across the surface that when stepped on moved up and down underfoot. Di Orio and Lukaszewski both have fond memories of bog surfing with Dr. Millington.
Dr. Millington is remembered by many as a compassionate teacher who had the rare ability to really connect with his students. He always made time for everyone, and had a sincere desire to help. Jim Di Orio credits Dr. Millington with instilling the scientific method in him. Dr. Millington’s students, like Dr. Millington himself, were able to go on to do the things in science that they really loved to do. Dennis Lukaszewski remembers Dr. Millington’s uncanny ability to get his way without direct interference. Dr. Millington’s students even had a name for this ability, the “Millington”. If someone was doing a task that Dr. Millington thought could be done better, or more efficiently, he would suggest an alternative way, and ask “what do you think?” He was usually right, and got his way. Lukaszewski cannot remember a time when Dr. Millington got angry in all the years that they worked together. Dr. Millington just had a “demeanor of caring” Lukaszeski says.
Dr. Robert Fitts, the current department chair relates that Dr. Millington’s compassion extended to faculty as well. He remembers Bill Millington as always willing to listen and provide thoughtful advice to new faculty.
Dr. Millington retired in June 1987 when he was named Professor Emeritus. In his high school and college days, Dr. Millington had been an accomplished musician -even earning some money in college playing in a big band. After retirement, a switch was turned back on in Dr. Millington, and he picked up his saxophone again to join a group of other retirees to play the nursing home circuit. Dr. Millington had a plethora of artistic hobbies which kept him busy in his retirement, including gardening, photography, and his music. Sadly, Dr. Millington passed away in 2003.
Image credit: Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries, and Millington, W. and S. Gawlik. 1970. Ultrastructure and initiation of wall pattern in Pediastrum boryanum. Am. J. Bot. 57:552-561.