Gerald J. Miller, World War II veteran and associate professor emeritus of the School of Social Work, passed away on November 28, 2014 at the age of 91.
The memories of his life, his career and his legacy are decorated by a recurring pattern: moments of clear conviction that led to altruistic action.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Miller, then a freshman at Hartwick College, hitchhiked to Albany to offer his service to the war effort in the U.S. Army Air Corp Aviation Cadet School. As a member of the Eighth Airforce Division, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for destroying nine German Luftwaffe aircraft in a single mission. This streak of dedication to causes for the greater good would remain latched onto Miller as he left the army and ventured forward.
While immersed in a successful career as a research associate in atomic energy at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Miller was nudged by the inspiration to make a radical career shift and become involved in social work. After earning an MSW from St. Patrick’s College of the University of Ottawa, Miller returned home to Rochester and worked with Catholic Charities for five years.
Miller joined the UBSSW faculty in 1961, where he remained until his retirement from his position as MSW Program Director in 1994. The impression he left upon the School is one of a fierce devotion to social justice, tempered by a gentle nature and compassionate sensitivity for his students. Bonnie Collins, MSW ’80 — a former student of Miller — recalls an example of Miller’s others-focused kindness. She was late to an exam, due to tough winter road conditions. When she rushed into class, anxious from being late and worried that her professor would greet her with disapproval, she was met instead with understanding from Miller, who was simply relieved that she was not hurt. He even suggested that she get a coffee to relax before taking the exam. Miller’s default response was that of empathy, patience and humility; he continually searched for ways to elevate his students and colleagues.
It is fitting, then, that when a colleague of Miller’s passed away, he did something to honor his friend and keep his memory alive. Paul Edwards, who worked with Miller for more than 20 years at the UBSSW, willed his estate to Miller upon his death. Miller, whose ambitions were always stoked by helping others, used the money from the estate to establish the Paul Edwards and Gerald Miller Scholarship Fund. It was Miller’s wish — as well as the wish of his dear friend — to ensure that the future of social work education could continue to thrive. He cherished this fund, requesting that donations be made to the scholarship in lieu of flowers at his wake. Miller’s diligent hope to invest in students, which was sustained throughout his abundant life, now resonates in his deeply-felt absence.
- Lauren Kroening for Mosaics, Spring 2015