Utah State University
George and Billie Emert

LOGAN — George H. Emert, who served as Utah State University’s 13th president, died Wednesday at age 79, according to a statement from the university.

The statement did not give a cause of death.

“He was a dedicated Aggie who was a dynamic leader,” current USU President Noelle Cockett said in the statement. “Throughout George’s administration, we all benefited from his ability to identify new opportunities to grow Utah State University and further our land grant mission. He will be missed by the Aggie family.”

Emert, who served as president for more than eight years, stepped down in 2000. He took a one-year transitional sabbatical and then taught in the College of Science for another year before leaving Logan.

During his presidency, the university said scholarships rose from $6 million to $29 million, while the endowment was raised from $7 million to nearly $80 million. Contracts and grants to USU also increased from $89 million to more than $140 million, and student enrollment went from 17,000 students to nearly 21,000.

Born on Dec. 15, 1938, in Sevier County, Tennessee, Emert was raised on a parcel of land farmed by his family dating back to the Revolutionary War, and attended elementary and high school in a one-room schoolhouse.

Emert served two tours in Vietnam as a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces from 1963-66. He was awarded the Air Medal and a Bronze Star.

While on furlough, he met his future wife, Billie, on a blind date in Okinawa, Japan. They were married two years later.

Emert earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology with minors in chemistry and math from the University of Colorado, then went on to complete a master’s degree in zoology at Colorado State University and a doctorate in biochemistry and nutrition from Virginia Tech.

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He worked as the director of biochemical technology for Gulf Oil Corp. before becoming an adjunct assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Kansas. He joined the University of Arkansas in 1979, where he was a professor of biochemistry and served as the director of the Biomass Research Center.

Prior to moving to Utah State, he served nine years as the executive vice president at Auburn University.

In 2002, the auditorium in the Eccles Science Learning Center was named in honor of Emert and his wife.