Billington ’50: ‘Renaissance Professorial’

i-21914545310c2ec8886c2819e86ab282-billington-pre.jpgIn a half-century on the Princeton faculty, Professor David Billington ’50, right, taught generations of students about structural engineering and aesthetics, making a lasting impression with his love for the subject matter and his helpful tips. (The requirements for an aesthetic structure, for instance, were broken down into the “three E’s” of elegance, efficiency, and economy, and the “three S’s,” symbolic, scientific, and social.)

Randy Evans ’69 and his daughter Annie ’04, both alumni of Billington’s popular civil engineering courses, attempted to summarize the professor’s unique genius in this Pirates-of-Penzance-style tribute, which was performed at a May 27 dinner at Prospect House that honored Billington’s contributions to the University.

He is the very model of a Renaissance Professorial

An Ode to Professor Billington (with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan)
 

He is the very model of a Renaissance Professorial,

He’s information, Scientific, Social and Symbolical

He knows the Engineers of England, and quotes the bridges historical

From Coalbrookdale to Tower Bridge in order categorical;

He’s very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,

He understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,

About Isler and Christian Menn, he’s teeming with a lot o’ news,

With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

He’s very good at integral and differential calculus;

He knows the artistic names of Humanities Historiculous

In short, in matters Scientific, Social and Symbolical

He is the very model of a Renaissance Professorial.
 

He knows our structural history, Eiffel, Maillart and Gunvald Aus;

He answers hard acrostics, has a pretty taste for paradox,

He lectures iambic pentameter, all the crimes Tacoma Narrows-ous,

In conics he can floor peculiarities parabolous;

He can tell Cable Stayed Structurals from Roebling’s and Ammanninies,

He knows the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!

Then he can hum a fugue of which He’s heard the music’s din afore,

And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

Then he can write a lecture in Babylonic cuneiform,

And tell you ev’ry detail of George Washington Goethals’ uniform:

In short, in matters, Scientific, Social and Symbolical

He is the very model of a Renaissance Professorial.

In fact, he ‘s been a master to integrate Aesthetics and Economics,

And he can tell at sight a slide rule from an abacus,

Such affairs as symposiums and dinners he’s more curious,

And now he knows precisely what is meant by “emeritus,”

In short, we hail a tour de force of modern education

You’ll say a better Professor has never served our nation.

For his scientific knowledge, he’s been plucky and adventury,

And he has taught at Princeton for over half a Century

Therefore in matters Scientific, Social and Symbolical

He is the very model of a Renaissance Professorial

(Photo courtesy Princeton University Office of Communications. Lyrics reprinted with permission from the authors.)