SAN DIEGO, Cal. — Raymond Muse, 88, long-time chair of the Washington State University Department of History, died October 28 in San Diego after a long illness.
In 1948, Muse became an instructor in the Department of History and Political Science at WSU. The following year he was promoted to assistant professor. By 1956 he had become chair of the newly formed Department of History, a position he held until his retirement in 1979, by which time it was ranked among the top 15 percent of history departments in the United States. When he retired, Muse had been chair of a department longer than anyone else in WSU history.
“Ray had a national reputation among colleagues who knew him as a consummate department chair, thanks to his ability to know all the buttons to press when he needed a new desk, a promotion for a department member, tenure or whatever,” said long-time colleague Ed Bennett. Muse played a major role in the establishment of the Faculty Senate at WSU, and the creation of the Asian Studies and American Studies programs.
“Ray’s strong suit was the ability to cast a rosy glow on the direst conditions or the gloomiest prospects and make a person or an entire department feel good about themselves,” offered David Stratton, Muse’s successor as chair. “He was a ‘human engineer,’ who specialized in building self-confidence and a sense of hope and well-being in people.”
Muse’s sense of humor was legendary. Not only did it appear in relations with colleagues, but it also enlivened his classes. Students didn’t come late to his classes for fear of missing his opening joke. He loved teaching, particularly the introductory U.S. history course.
The eighth floor of Orton Hall on the WSU campus is named in Muse’s honor, as is the history department office. He was a member of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the American Association of University Professors, the American Studies Association, and several honoraries.
Muse was born on a farm in Webster County , Mo., September 24, 1915, the oldest of eight children of Robert Guy and Verbie Adoline Good Muse. He was graduated from Marshfield (Mo.) High School, where he was a champion debater, in 1932. He began teaching at a one-room country school near Marshfield. The school board adjusted its school year so that Muse could spend part of the year attending Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, from which he was graduated in 1938.
Muse taught from 1938-1940 at the Pipkin School in Springfield, before a mentor suggested that Muse could be an outstanding college professor. He not only encouraged Muse, but gained him admission to the Stanford University graduate program in 1940. While attending Stanford, Muse taught English and was a residence counselor at Menlo School and Menlo Junior College (now Menlo College.) He received his A.M. in 1943, after completing a thesis, “The Constitution of Provincial Massachusetts.”
Muse entered the military in November 1942 and took infantry training at Camp White near Medford, Ore. The Army recognized his talent, and placed him in the military’s Foreign Language School at the University of Idaho in 1943. In April 1944, he was transferred to CyptoAnalytic School in Warrenton, Va. En route, he married Alberta Baldridge (who had been a fellow teacher at Pipkin) on Easter Sunday at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.. (She died in 1968). Muse served with the 91st Division as a traffic analyst and cryptoanalyst in Asia, primarily in Delhi, India, for the remainder of the war.
Muse taught at SW Missouri in the spring and summer of 1946 before returning to Stanford to complete his Ph.D. in October 1948. His dissertation evaluated the work of William Douglass, a physician and historian in colonial America.
Muse was active in the Democratic Party, serving as state committeeman. He was a fervent supporter of civil liberties and free speech, demonstrated best perhaps by his testimony in the landmark John Goldmark libel trial in 1964. This interest in civil liberties included teaching the constitutional history course.
After moving to San Diego, Muse maintained his interest in teaching and learning through his involvement with the Institute of Continued Learning at the University of California-San Diego. An avid gardener. Muse played an important role at the Quail Botanical Gardens in San Diego, from serving as a docent giving tours of the garden and working on various garden projects, to serving as a trustee in the QBG Foundation.
In August 1969, Muse married Marianne Johnson, widow of the late Verner L. Johnson of Pullman, a long-time family friend.
In addition to his wife, Muse is survived by three sons – Dean L. Johnson of Annapolis, Md.; Owen V. Johnson of Bloomington, Ind., and Kyle R. Jansson of Monmouth, Ore. – and their spouses; seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren; as well as by Marge Harden of Marshfield, Mo., his sole surviving sibling.
A memorial service will be held Tuesday at 2 p.m., at the Wesley Palms retirement community in San Diego, where the Muses lived.
Memorial gifts may be made to the Raymond Muse Scholarship Fund in the WSU Department of History.