Gartner `Lou' Miller, 71, Fort McHenry volunteer, ambassador for four decades

July 30, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Gartner "Lou" Miller, a four-decade Fort McHenry volunteer and unofficial ambassador for local tourism, died Tuesday of a respiratory ailment at Howard County General Hospital. He was 71 and lived in the Lansdowne section of Baltimore County.

Described as one of the fort's quintessential characters, Mr. Miller logged long hours there, routinely offering suggestions to travelers where to get a good, inexpensive meal.

He told tourists of Eastern Shore restaurants he liked and spots not to be missed in Baltimore's old neighborhoods.

The first enlistee in the Fort McHenry Guard, a volunteer group, he often donned a custom-tailored, blue-and-gold dress uniform and fancy hat that resembled those worn by the Baltimoreans who defended the city against the British attackers in 1814.

"When he was dressed in his artillery uniform, the children would flock around just to hear his stories," said Fort McHenry historian and park ranger Scott Sheads. "He chewed away on a Havana cigar and sat on a gunpowder keg."

He was named the guard's honorary colonel in August 1999. The title recognized his years of service and contributions.

In 1992, Mr. Miller helped organize one of the fort's most popular events - the annual spring Civil War weekend, when about 7,000 visitors converge. He was the quartermaster of the day and prepared roast beef and potatoes for the scores of re-enactors who camped there.

When he gave out advice on where to eat, it was from personal experience. A widower for the past 16 years, he often took his meals at restaurants near his home or the fort.

"He had his own table here and didn't like it if it wasn't available," said Vincent Rallo, owner of Rallo's Restaurant on Fort Avenue. "He had a big breakfast -sausage and eggs - and once suggested to me that I add a Spanish omelet to the menu. I complied."

After a flattering photograph of him dressed in his uniform appeared on a 1989 Maryland Magazine cover, Mr. Miller appeared in a Kaiser Permanente television commercial, a "Salute to Maryland." In it, he enunciated a pure Baltimore accent.

"He just spoke that way and was proud of it," said his daughter, Susan K. Prodoehl of Westminster. "He never put the T in Baltimore."

Born in Baltimore, he was raised in the southwestern section of the city. He was a graduate of Polytechnic Institute.

He retired in 1983 from the Social Security Administration, where he was a supervisor in the printing department in Woodlawn.

Named the 1984 Lansdowne Fireman of the Year, he was an active member of the organization for 40 years.

He was a member of the Baltimore County Volunteer Fireman's Association, the Maryland State Fireman's and Fire Chief's associations.

He was also widely recognized for his volunteer work. Then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer gave him the key to the city. He was the 1992 Governor's Volunteer of the Year and was a Maryland "Unofficial Ambassador."

Mr. Miller served in the Navy at the Patuxent Naval Air Station in the 1940s.

In 1950 he married Helen Selig, a Montgomery Ward office worker. She died in 1984.

Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Burrier-Queen Funeral Home, 1212 West Old Liberty Road, Winfield.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, David G. Miller of Baltimore; two brothers, Carl Miller of Eldersburg and Frank Somers Jr. of Lansdowne; a sister, Aleta Harry of Finksburg; and one granddaughter.

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