Robert L. Miller Sr., 65, Western Electric engineer

January 30, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,STAFF WRITER

Robert Lewis Miller Sr., an engineer who helped create a plastic clip now used on nearly every telephone, fax machine and home computer in the country, died Friday of complications of pulmonary disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Hampden resident was 65.

Working at Western Electric Co.'s Point Breeze plant on Broening Highway in the 1960s, he was asked to find a way to mass-produce a wired plastic clip the size of a pencil eraser. It was to hold four telephone wires and replace an older technology.

Using a polymer called PVC -- polyvinyl chloride - he helped devise what telephone installers dubbed the "quick clip," a modular connection between a telephone and wall plate. It became the standard of the telephone industry and later was used to link modems on personal computers and fax machines.

"He was the lead engineer on the job," said Brud Patterson, a retired co-worker from Oxford on the Eastern Shore. "Western Electric did not routinely publicize what it did, so he never got any credit. He was an engineer in the cord and wire shop."

"The Bell Lab people at Point Breeze designed these things and threw them over the transom to the Western Electric engineers, who had to make them quickly, in large numbers - and economically. Literally millions of these things are now being used every year. It was a labor-saving device that allowed you to quickly connect - or to do a simple repair."

Born in Baltimore and raised on Hampden's 35th Street, he played basketball in his teens at the Roosevelt Recreation Center and often drove to citywide competitions in his 1946 Mercury. He was a 1955 graduate of Polytechnic Institute, earned a degree in engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park and master's degrees from the Johns Hopkins University and Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.

He went to work for Western Electric in the late 1950s. After the court-ordered breakup of the Bell System in the 1980s, Mr. Miller was assigned to other Bell labs - in Richmond, Va., and Princeton, N.J. He returned to Baltimore after his 1991 retirement.

"He had a good scientific mind," said Robert Anderson, a former neighbor who is a retired engineer and lives in Arlington, Texas.

Mr. Miller taught Sunday school at Otterbein Memorial United Methodist Church on Roland Avenue in Hampden, where he was also a church usher.

"He was an enthusiastic, funny teacher who loved his children," said Oda Martin, a fellow Sunday school teacher. "He brought in maps of the Holy Land and he showed the towns mentioned in the Bible. He made sure the children knew there really was a place like Bethlehem."

Mr. Miller's 1962 marriage to the former Mary Louise Stevenson ended in divorce.

Services were held yesterday in Baltimore.

Survivors include a son, Robert Lewis Miller Jr. of Tucson, Ariz.; three daughters, Jennifer Denny Miller of Easton, Margaret Louise Obrecht of Baltimore and Emily Stirling Miller of Lake Tahoe, Nev.; his mother, Bessie Virginia Miller of Baltimore; and a grandson.

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