The voice of experience and a life of compassion


Back Story

November 18, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

More than a 100 people gathered in Easton the other day to talk about and remember William Robert Miller - more familiarly known as Bob Miller - a recovering alcoholic who in turning his life around helped and inspired others to do the same.

Miller, 92, who was a former director of Baltimore's Tuerk House and a former program director for the National Council on Alcoholism, died Nov. 6.

"It was Bob who packed that room. It was standing room only and the staff ran out of chairs," said Lucy L. Howard, a 30-year recovering alcoholic. She was a member of the caravan of mourners from Baltimore who had traveled to the Eastern Shore to say a few words and share memories of a man who had helped people change their lives for the better.

Miller, who took his last drink when Harry Truman was president, proved during the intervening 56 years of his sobriety that there was life after the bottle, and he didn't need a few drinks to be the life of the party.

Miller was a City College graduate, where he had been a gifted lacrosse player. He also graduated from St. John's College in 1936 and served in the Coast Guard during World War II.

His downward spiral into alcoholism began at the same time his business career as a salesman was beginning to soar.

As his drinking increased, there were frequent disappearances, and times when he couldn't remember where he had parked the car.

"He was found laying in the gutter one day in Southeast Baltimore and realized he had to do something," said his wife of 67 years, the former Shirley Morton, the other day.

Finally, Miller hit bottom, and then a Towson neighbor talked him into attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

"When he joined AA he had realized it was time to stop drinking and at the same time try and help others. He realized that AA helped him keep his life together," his wife said.

I got to know Miller more than a decade ago, and he was the first person I called any time I was writing about someone who had struggled with alcoholism.

I realized he was not only an extrovert but was gifted with a tremendous sense of compassion, and I could see why he was such a rock for those battling alcoholism and trying to reclaim their lives.

He also had a fine sense of humor, which I'm certain helped keep him going during his struggle and which he willingly bestowed on others to help with theirs.

Miller's favorite saying, which became his mantra, was: "I don't care whether an alcoholic came from Yale or jail or Park Avenue or park bench, I'm here to help."

"Bob had no overblown ego. He knew what our problems were because he had had all of them. There was never too much that you could ask of him," said Bow Brenton, a Tuerk House administrator and a longtime friend.

Miller would travel far and wide to talk about recovery, and one time while being interviewed on a Baltimore radio station by Bill LeFevre, the host mistakenly spoke Miller's full name rather than observing the customary AA tradition of not using last names.

During the break, LeFevre apologized for the gaffe, and Miller said, "Don't worry about it - I'm not, but I bet there are a lot of nervous Bob Millers out there."

His grandson, Michael R. Valliant, director of marketing and media relations for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, gave the eulogy:

"I got to hear him interviewed live on the radio once, and I heard him use a telling analogy when someone asked him if you could ever not be an alcoholic again once you were one. He said you could turn a cucumber into a pickle, but you can't turn a pickle back into a cucumber. Whether it was his thought or not, I don't know, but it drove home the point."

One speaker recalled that Miller liked to quote his AA sponsor, who said: "Miller - you have delusions of adequacy."

Another recalled a newly sober AA member telling Miller that he wanted to marry again. The secret to a successful marriage, he advised the man, were three key words: "Let's eat out."

Another eulogist shared with great emotion the lasting impact of Bob's work organizing an intervention for his father, who got and stayed sober as a result of his help.

All of them agree how important it was for AA members to attend regular meetings.

"He kept coming back and because he did, we have to also," a man said.

Valliant mentioned his grandfather's love of coffee.

"He drank more coffee than anyone I've met. He never turned down a cup. And though he liked coffee, I think it represented something even more important to him: conversation," Valliant said. "When you sit down and have a cup of coffee with someone, you make a conscious effort to engage them. And that was Pop."

"He was proud of AA and what he had done but never bored people with it," Miller's wife said. "And he still made the best darn martini, but of course, didn't drink them."

At the end of his life, Miller was deaf and blind.

"I know that he was ready to go," his wife said.

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