Humble former Hilton Head retiree's accomplishments stuns neighbors

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comJuly 7, 2012 

Paige Mulhollan was a lifelong educator, the third president of Wright State University, a historian whose research is included in the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, a sailor, a lover of nature and a community leader.

But few realized any of this until reading his obituary.

"People read it and were shocked," said Mike McGinty, Mulhollan's former neighbor in Hilton Head Plantation. "They said, 'I can't believe he did all of that' because he didn't talk about himself a lot. He didn't talk about things. He just did things."

Mulhollan, a longtime volunteer at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, former president of the Hilton Head Audubon Society and former board member at the Coastal Discovery Museum, died last week after suffering a stroke in June. He was 77.

Mulhollan and his wife, Mary Bess, moved to Hilton Head Island in 1994 after he retired as president of Wright State University. The couple moved from Hilton Head to Mulhollan's native Fayetteville, Ark., in 2004.

Mulhollan led the college in Dayton, Ohio, for nearly a decade and was remembered there last week as a visionary.

"He recognized the importance of research excellence and community service as integral to the academic experience of our students," Wright State president David R. Hopkins said in a statement. "We are forever indebted to him."

Mulhollan suffered a stroke June 18 while at a ceremony at Wright State to name an athletic field in his honor. He died in hospice care July 1 in Arkansas.

Mulhollan received a doctorate in history from the University of Texas in 1966. He was a senior research associate at the University of Texas Oral History Project, where he interviewed officials for an oral history collection at the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.

His career also included stops at Kansas State University, the University of Oklahoma and Arizona State, where he was executive vice president. He left that post for Wright State, according to school officials.

Mulhollan spoke infrequently about his academic and professional achievements, McGinty said.

"Paige was very personable, tremendously smart, but never touted his accomplishments," McGinty said. "He was a great educator, a historian, a great sailor and was a very talented guy ... but he was also very humble."

Locally, neighbors and friends remembered Mulhollan's fight for the preservation of wetlands as co-president of the Hilton Head Land Trust and for his promotion of the area's natural resources as a longtime member of the Coastal Discovery Museum board of directors.

Natalie Hefter, the museum's vice president of programs, met Mulhollan during her internship at the museum in 1997 and said his love for nature was apparent.

"I remember Paige telling me at some point in my early time at the museum that, although he had made his career in history and had multiple advanced degrees in history, that here on Hilton Head Island, he was spending his time with another (of his) passions -- nature," Hefter said. "He, along with his wife, Mary Bess, led many of our nature tours, were always a wealth of information and were extremely dedicated to the educational mission of the" museum.

Mulhollan and his wife also volunteered at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, where they monitored and filled hundreds of bluebird boxes and were active with the Hilton Head Audubon Society.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.

Related content:

Paige Mulhollan remembered by Wright State University

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