In Memoriam: William A. "Billy" Mills


by Andy Mills and Health Physics News Editors

On 22 December 2016, William A. "Billy" Mills, PhD, a radiation safety physicist who served the federal government for over 40 years, passed away in Sandy Spring, Maryland, from complications of Alzheimer's disease at the age of 87.

During his career, Billy held senior positions at the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Billy was born 12 October 1929, the son of the Leonard and Mary Powell Mills, who worked at the Craddock-Terry shoe factory in Lynchburg, Virginia. Billy married Patricia Brown, also of Lynchburg, in 1952.

In 1951 he graduated with a BS from Lynchburg College, where he majored in math, physics, and chemistry. He received an Atomic Energy Commission Health Physics Fellowship to Vanderbilt University, where he received an MS in physics in 1954. Billy also studied at the Medical College of Virginia and the University of Virginia, ultimately attaining a PhD in biophysics.

Billy began his career in health physics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1951, after graduation from Lynchburg College. His fondest recollection of work at Oak Ridge was working with Sam Hurst, from whom he claimed he learned more physics than from any university, while developing neutron threshold dosimeters. Legend has it that at one time he carried half the world's supply of plutonium (as detector foils) in his pocket while traveling to the Nevada Test Site.

In 1955, Billy accepted a commission in the USPHS and transferred to Washington, DC, where he directed research programs on the effects of ionizing and nonionizing radiation. In February 1963, Billy was appointed to head the newly created Biophysics Unit of the Radiological Health Laboratory at Rockville, Maryland. He retired from USPHS as scientist director with the rank of captain.

In 1970, Billy became the first director of the Criteria and Standards Division of the EPA Office of Radiation Programs, where he managed the development of radiation exposure standards. In the 1980s, he continued to develop standards as chief of the Health Effects Branch of the NRC. In his last position, Billy was the senior science/policy advisor at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education in Washington, DC, a position he held from 1985 until he retired. In this capacity he directed science and policy support for the Committee on Interagency Radiation Research and Policy Coordination, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President.

Billy was a charter member of the Health Physics Society (HPS), served on various Society committees, was president of the Baltimore-Washington Chapter in 1984, and ultimately served as HPS president-elect and president (1995–1996). He was a fellow in HPS and was only the eighth recipient of the Elda Anderson Award in 1969.

Billy was also a member of the Society for Risk Analysis and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) and served on the NCRP Scientific Committee 64 on Environmental Radioactivity.

Billy loved to garden and spend time at the beach with his family. They visited the Myrtle Beach area every summer since the early 1960s, always joined by the families of Billy's sisters, Fay and Joan. He and Pat also once owned a house in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.

Billy is survived by his wife, Patricia, as well as four children: Andy Mills of Alexandria, Virginia; Cindy Elder of Sharpsburg, Maryland; Leonard Mills of Brookeville, Maryland; and Danny Mills of Rockville, Maryland. He is also survived by a sister, Joan Alcorn of Lynchburg, Virginia; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Billy will be missed by his Society and professional colleagues.