Brigham D. Madsen 1914 ~ 2010Comment on this story
Brigham D. Madsen, prominent Utah historian and long-time chronicler of the American West, died December 24, 2010 at the age of 96 from causes incident to age. "Brig" as he was known to his friends, or "Dwaine" as he was called by his relatives, was born in Magna, Utah October 21, 1914 to Brigham and Lydia Cushing Madsen. The oldest of five children, Brig was preceded in death by his siblings: Anne Carter, Phyllis Eldredge, Mack Madsen and Rod Madsen. Most of his formative years were spent in Pocatello, Idaho where he learned the building business from his father. He graduated from Pocatello High School in 1932 and took a junior college degree from what was then Idaho State College in 1934. He then served an LDS mission in rural Tennessee and North Carolina where he built two modest chapels. He graduated from the University of Utah in 1938 where he met his future wife, Betty McAllister. He spent a year as principal of Pingree High School in Idaho. Immediately after their marriage in 1939 they moved to California where Brig pursued graduate studies in American History at the University of California, Berkeley, supporting his growing family by first working as a night watchman and later by building "Victory Ships" at the Oakland shipyards during the early days of World War II. Brig felt the call to service of his country and joined the army, he was a Training Officer at Fort Benning Officer Candidate School, later as a First Lieutenant in the infantry in the European theater. At the close of the war he served on the General Staff as Chief of the Historical Section of the 3rd Army. That appointment enabled him to travel all over post-war Europe collecting important documents, interviewing major figures and attending important events. Among these were the Nuremburg trials, which greatly affected his view of the world. Brig returned to Berkeley at the end of his service to receive his PhD in 1948, focusing his dissertation on "The Bannock of Idaho" because of his interest in Native American history and that of his childhood home. Despite a number of job offers from across the country, Brig signed on as one of two new professors in the fledgling History Department at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. From 1948-1954 he taught history at BYU, but was troubled throughout his tenure there by philosophical differences with the university administration. With a growing family to support Brig continued to work in the construction business with his father and brothers, joining them on weekends and during the summer, building single and multiple dwelling units. In 1954 he resigned his university appointment and returned full time to the building business serving as president when Madsen Brothers Construction Company was formally incorporated in 1957. These were, in Brig's words "years of intellectual famine" and he was moved to return to the academic world of research and teaching in 1961, taking an appointment at Utah State University. While there, Brig became involved in training Peace Corps volunteers and he moved to Washington where he served as an assistant Director of Training for the Peace Corps and, later, Director of Training for the VISTA program. The high point in Brig's life was proudly joining Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington and listening to his "I have a dream" speech, "the greatest speech I ever heard in my life." This administrative experience, together with a background running a construction company led to a series of positions in the University of Utah administration when Brig returned to academia in 1965. He served first as Dean of Continuing Education, then Deputy Academic Vice President before spending several years as Administrative Vice President and Director of Libraries. The University was undergoing a building boom during those years, and Brig's blend of academic and construction experience meant he had a major hand in the development of the campus. Throughout this period of administrative overload he was also a Professor in the History Department, teaching courses as time allowed. He longed to return to teaching and writing full time, and, after a brief stint as chairman of the department, he was finally able to do so in 1975. He was successful at both, twice winning the university's Distinguished Teaching Award and publishing 11 books between 1979-1986. Two of the latter received the best non-fiction book of the year award given by Westerners International. In many of these his work continued to focus on Native American history such as The Lemhi: Sacajawea's People, The Northern Shoshoni, The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre, and Chief Pocatello: "The White Plume." Due to his significant research and writing about the Shoshoni Indians he was proud to be named an honorary member of the Northern Shoshoni Indian tribe. After his retirement in 1984 Brig continued to write and lecture well into his 90's. He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities from the University of Utah in 1998. He was a founder and life-long member of the Utah Westerners and was instrumental in the founding of the Utah Humanities Council. In 1997, his wife Betty died after a lingering illness and he was remarried several years later to Lola Kastler. Soon after their marriage she unexpectedly passed away. He married Mary Harriman in 2003 with whom he enjoyed a loving, caring relationship. Brigham D. Madsen is survived by his wife Mary, his daughter Karen Loos, Alameda, CA, his son David and wife Evelyn of Austin, TX, daughter Linda and husband John Dunning, Cottonwood Creek, UT and son Steve and wife Deb of Carlsbad, CA and five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren and by Mary's son Bill, daughter Mary Lynda Smith and grandchildren. Brigham Dwaine Madsen was a big, gregarious, happy man who loved life, song and the pursuit of historic reality. A man of many interests and a believer in the value of hard work, he loves working with both his hands and his mind. He charmed virtually everyone he met and was loved by many, students, colleagues, friends and family alike. He will be greatly missed. A memorial service will be held at Larkin Sunset Lawn, Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. Visiting hours from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. with burial following the memorial service. In lieu of flowers the family suggests contributions to the University of Utah Department of History Teaching Assistants Fund, 215 S. Central Campus Dr, SLC, UT 84112 or the Utah Humanities Council, 202 W. 300 N., SLC, UT 84103.