Science

Bequest to honour a mother’s inspiration

 

Image: UGA News Service

 


By Nicky Lancaster


Lynne Billard attributes her success to two things: her gene pool and a cadetship offered to women in the 1960’s at the University of New South Wales. 
 
She takes no credit for her stellar career as former Department Head, and currently a University Professor in the Department of Statistics at the University of Georgia. 
 
The genetic connection is with her mother, whom Lynne insists had everything to do with how her own life unfolded. Her mother, Chrissie Billard, did not have an easy life.  She grew up in rural NSW, and lost her father at an early age. Her brothers, however, kept the farm going and everyone fed.  In part it was their sacrifice and support that gave her the chance to fulfil her dream and attend university. Chrissie took care of the other part, achieving three first class honours in her Leaving Certificate.  She graduated from the University of Sydney with a degree in Mathematics and Botany. 

Chrissie Billard always expected her children to go to university; there was never any question about that.
 
“I was one of six and we had nothing. But because of my mother, we were always going to university, even though my family couldn’t afford it,” Lynne says. 

“I was lucky and the timing was right,” she explains. “In the 60’s, there was little to no financial support for women to enter university.  However this was soon to change and I received an opportunity that gave me the education my mother so valued.”
 

During his tenure, Professor Blatt the founding Professor of Applied Mathematics at UNSW decided the University should provide cadetships for women. There was great opposition to this idea at the time; however, Professor Blatt prevailed, resulting in three additional cadetships made available for women. Lynne received one and university became a reality.

After graduation she took a trip to England and a chance conversation at a banquet, Lynne recalls, opened the door to a teaching position at the State University in Buffalo, New York.  

“Australia was very remote in those days and travel was expensive,” she says. “So, I thought ok I can do this, I can delay returning home for six months.”

That was in the 70’s. Four decades later she remains in America, having held Professorships at several universities before being recruited to turn around the Department of Statistics at the University of Georgia.  All the while she has been a champion for young women to complete degrees in mathematics and work in a field that she has found both fulfilling and rewarding.

No surprise, then, when ten years ago Lynne talked to her mother about giving back and leaving a bequest to UNSW.  “I decided to leave a bequest to honour my mother, I don’t have children, so what do I do with my money?” 
 
With the funds from her assets in Australia, Lynne hopes that the Faculty of Science will establish a scholarship for women in mathematics in her mother’s name.
 
“I started with nothing. I got every bit of my career from my mother – her mathematical ability, her insistence that we attend university and of course the opportunity provided by the cadetship. Where would I be without my education at UNSW?” Lynne asks. “ So, why not give back to encourage and support others?  This just seems obvious to me.”