SHSU mourns loss of longtime professors Bilhartz, Carter

Sam Houston State University students and staff lost two beloved, longtime professors and colleagues over the winter break with the passing of history professor Terry Bilhartz, Ph.D, and retired political science professor James Carter, Ph.D.

Born Jan. 13, 1950, Bilhartz graduated from Justin F. Kimball High School in 1968 and continued pursuing his education by obtaining his Bachelor of Science from Dallas Baptist College, his Master’s from Emory University and his doctorate from George Washington University. Bilhartz also completed his post-doctoral studies in history and religion at Vanderbilt University, Standford University, the University of Connecticut, the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii and the Australian National University.

Bilhartz became a professor of history at SHSU in 1977 where, for the next nearly four decades he would teach more than 18,000 students, author more than 50 articles and books, and found Green Publishing House.

According to colleague and friend of Bilhartz, political science professor James Olson, Ph.D., Bilhartz was present at the graduation ceremony which took place in the Johnson Coliseum the morning of Dec. 12. That afternoon, Olson received a phone call from the head of the political science department urging him to go to the hospital as Bilhartz had suffered a heart attack while working out in the on-campus Recreational Sports Center.

“We all had just seen him and talked to him that morning at the graduation ceremony,” Olson said. “He was always so health conscious and was always watching his diet and working out so it really came as a shock to us. His death really knocked the wind out of our department.”

Bilhartz died Dec. 12. He was 64.

“We saw each other almost every day for the last 30 to 40 years,” Olson said. “We talked about life and I would update him on my struggle battling cancer. He was always a good friend, a good listener and always had good advice. He always wanted to do right by people and had a great consciousness for fairness and for that I greatly respect him.”

The classes Bilhartz was scheduled to teach in the spring semester are being covered by history professor Wesley Phelps. According to Olson, the department met yesterday to reminisce and brainstorm ideas as to how to properly commemorate Bilhartz’s legacy at SHSU.

“He was an extremely hard working and decent man who always wanted students and faculty to grow in their careers,” Olson said. “I loved him and I will miss him greatly.”

Born in 1948 in Birmingham, AL, Carter served as a military policeman in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1972 where his service included time in Germany. Carter earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alabama and continued his education by receiving his doctorate from the University of North Texas.

Carter joined the faculty of SHSU in 1977 where he taught political philosophy, environmental policy and American Government for nearly four decades from which he retired in 2011. In addition to his teachings, Carter was also an avid runner, cyclists, golfer and photographer.

Political Science professor and colleague John Domino, Ph.D., first met Carter during his interview at SHSU 25 years ago and would eventually deliver his eulogy.

“Jim was very passionate and idealistic about a range of issues: politics, education, animals, social justice, and the environment,” Domino said. “And he didn’t like overly formalistic rules. Right up to the time he died he put people first—not rules and policies, but people. Of course, that kind of idealism drove many stuffy people crazy and I think he took pride in that.”

Political Science professor Mitzi Mahoney Ph.D. knew both Carter and Bilhartz as colleagues and as friends.

“When alumni are asked who in the department influenced them the most, they usually say two people influenced them; Carter was the constant,” Mahoney said. “He was different than any other faculty. Carter was willing to stand up for his ideals. He wasn’t intimidated or reticent. Very admirable…and sometimes inconvenient. Our department was lucky to have someone with the courage of his convictions and a strong sense of decency and fairness. Though Carter had retired and wasn’t with us daily, his death leaves a void. No one else was like Carter; unique, perplexing, confounding, gentle, smart, intriguing. We are heartbroken for his family and we are sad for ourselves.”

Carter died Dec. 22. He was 66.

“Terry Bilhartz and Jim Carter were about as different as two people could be except that both were principled, sincere and gentle people,” Mahoney said. “I think many of us spent the break reflecting on how we live the best life possible.”

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