Norfolk, Va. – A trusted source rang my phone at work and told me something I didn’t want to hear, John Miller was dead. I froze at first, could I put my feelings in check and do what he taught me? In the old days when he was my News Director he would tell us we had a job to do, and this was one of those times. We had a story to tell, sadly I am sharing his story, or my version of it. The truth is, every person who knew John has a story to tell.
Most of us who knew Virginia State Senator John Miller may have selfishly thought, how could this bad thing happen to someone so good? Perhaps my old co-worker Kathy Barnstorff captured a part of his personality best when she posted on Facebook, “There is no joy in Mudville today” when she heard the news of John’s apparent heart attack. She was referring to his abundant love of the Cubs, you see he was a loyal fan through and through. If you had the good fortune to know John as a friend you would be blessed by his loyal nature that was his gift to you.
We first met in 1981, over the telephone. I accepted a morning anchor/reporter position at WVEC-TV. Back in those days I worked out of the Pembroke Avenue station in Hampton. I traveled across the country from Arizona based on a conversation with Miller. He told me about the kind of Journalism that he believed in, he told me what he expected from his reporters, he told me I would be in an environment where I would thrive. He was correct on all counts but he left out the part where I would come to trust and respect him as a mentor. His kind and gentle nature where he led by example. When he wrote a script, he reviewed the video and wrote a narrative. When he married the two it was its own kind of poetry on tape.
I admired him so. He left us to work as Press Secretary for Senator Paul Trible and it was a move I didn’t understand at the time. I was selfish, I didn’t know he was paving the way to learn more about the political world where he would later make positive change.
Miller had many layers to his love of humanity. He served his community by being a tireless volunteer helping people learn to read, coaching kids in sports, helping WHRO public television raise revenue because he believed in it. When he ran for office in the State Senate 2007 he wanted to make a real contribution, and I don’t say that because he was my friend.
He quickly proved he had the ability to work both sides of the aisle in a political climate where that language was not easily spoken.
One of the first stories where we sat down and talked after he was elected to office had to do with a father and his fight to get his son’s name added to the Virginia War Memorial. Miller was a strong advocate of education, and Veterans rights.
Miller as a freshman Senator drafted a bill to help him get results and it moved to the house floor, a House committee unanimously approved the proposal which would include the names of all the state’s fallen service members on the Virginia War Memorial. Right now, only those who died in combat can have their names added. The bill was introduced on behalf of Rick Schumann whose son Lance Corporal Daryl Schumann died in a helicopter crash in route to an assignment in Syria. John thought it was a disgrace that you could die in an accident serving your country and not have your name on that wall.
That task is not yet complete, it would be such a tribute to John and Mr. Schumann to finish what he started.
Not to mention the Education reform bill he was so proud of, we just interviewed him a couple of weeks ago about that and he was beaming with delight the positive changes it would create for the children.
I guess that is the unfortunate timing of John’s death, it seemed he was just getting started on his good works.
John may be gone from this earth but I am reminded of something that my Grandmother Roberta used to say to us. She said children are like lumps of clay, everyone who touches the child leaves an impression. Knowing that, I hope I can take a little bit of the impression John Miller made on me as my mentor and each day try to serve my community, to make it just a little better than how I found it, as a tribute to his wonderful life.