Dorothy Miller, 81, Balto. Co. delegate

November 02, 2005|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Dorothy J. Miller, a lawyer who in 1950 became the first woman elected to the Maryland House of Delegates from Baltimore County, died of pancreatic cancer Sunday at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. She was 81.

She was born Dorothy Jackson in Baltimore, the daughter of parents who owned and operated several Jackson's Grocery Stores, and later the Emerald Bar on Harford Road in Parkville.

She was raised on lower Back River Neck Road in eastern Baltimore County, where she attended a two-room schoolhouse, and graduated in 1941 from Kenwood High School.

Mrs. Miller was a 1945 graduate of an accelerated program at the University of Maryland, where she earned her bachelor's and law degrees. She passed the Maryland bar exam when she was 21.

"She was 8 years old when she decided to be a lawyer. She loved reading old Westerns and especially those of Bret Harte, where a wise person like a judge was always helping out someone in trouble. And that's what she wanted to do, she wanted to serve people," said her daughter Carole M. Zendle of Oakton, Va.

In 1945, Mrs. Miller established a family law practice in the 8300 block of Harford Road, where she continued practicing for the next 60 years until her death.

"She was an attorney during the day and bartended at night when she came in to relieve her parents. And while working in the bar, she spent a lot of time talking to people who had problems," said another daughter, Alice M.L. Miller of Parkville.

Active in Democratic politics in Baltimore County, Mrs. Miller was elected countywide in 1950 to the first of two terms in the House of Delegates.

"She was one of those pioneering ladies in Baltimore County who practiced law. She was a plain, nice and lovely lady who was very bright and sincere," said Norman W. Lauenstein, a four-term former Baltimore County Council member from Essex and longtime friend. "She was the lady in the legislature you went to see. If you wanted something done, and it was legit, she'd go to bat for you."

"She was very appealing to people when out gathering votes," said Walter J. Rasmussen, a longtime political friend who retired in 1988 as chief of the Baltimore County Bureau of Land Acquisition.

Mrs. Miller served for three years as chairman of the county delegation and was a member of the judiciary, education, banking, and insurance and Social Security committees. She also was a member of a committee that investigated conditions in state mental hospitals in 1951.

While in Annapolis, Mrs. Miller complained about delegates being forced to divide their time among too many committees rather than being able to work full time on important panels, such as Judiciary and Ways and Means.

"If we had enlightened leadership this would be done," she told The Evening Sun in 1958. "As it is, some people are working on half a dozen committees while others go through their entire term without serving on a committee."

She added: "There's too much politics down here and not enough statesmanship."

After leaving politics in 1958, she returned to her law practice.

"People loved her so much. If they couldn't pay, she'd barter her services," Mrs. Zendle said.

"She was still working [on her clients' cases] in the hospital and said she had so much unfinished work that she wanted to complete. And she worked until the day she died," said Alice Miller.

Mrs. Miller's political life was recalled recently in a Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce video presentation of Where Are They Now?

"When her name came up, all the woman in the audience stood up and clapped. I was just shocked," Alice Miller said.

Mrs. Miller enjoyed preparing and presiding over family Sunday dinners. She was an accomplished seamstress and collected marble eggs, silver spoons, and antiques.

She was an active member of the Has Beens, Wannabees and Never Wuzzas, an organization of former Baltimore County politicians and state legislators, judges, and government workers that meets at Peerce's Plantation, a Dulaney Valley restaurant.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered for Mrs. Miller at 9 a.m. tomorrow at St. Ursula Roman Catholic Church, 8801 Harford Road.

Also surviving are her husband of 54 years, Charles Edward Miller, an artist and founder of the Le Millet Private Art School; a son, John B. Miller of Towson; another daughter, Anne C. Shelley of Parkville; a sister, Esther Dott of Lutherville; and three grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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