Richard Henry Miller
Christie McDonald's Remarks
provincetown, MassachusettsFOR LUCAS, JEN AND ALICE
Dick first entered my life when he came into our Core Class in the 11th grade to teach us the short story at The New Lincoln School. I don’t remember which short stories he talked about, or even what he said, but I remember very clearly that I was awestruck at what a wonderful teacher he was. New Lincoln gave students values that I have carried through my life: the importance of diversity and inclusion in the commitment to civil rights, the role that education in the broadest sense can play throughout one’s life for intellectual and personal growth, the importance of the arts. Dick and Joan, both of whom taught there, embodied those values. Of course, they didn’t tell me about what was going on between them, or much of anything else at New Lincoln, since I was a student there. But later, when Dick and Joan married on beautiful Cranberry Island, and Dick became part of our family, I felt then and always have how lucky I was and we all were. They both left New Lincoln, Dick to finish his PhD at Columbia and then teach English at Brooklyn College, Joan to study to become and then practice as an artist. Over the years, we would talk about the academic world, politics and cultural issues; Dick always asked probing questions, wanting to know what you thought about an issue, what you were doing and how dialogue could be engaged.
I had the privilege of talking to Dick almost every day on the phone last summer when Joan went to Sea Shore Point, and we shared quite a lot of thoughts, mostly quotidian, but not only. He told me many times how much he marveled at and admired Lucas, and how marvelous Jen was in his life. He spoke of the extraordinary support that you both gave to him and Joan over the years. And Alice brought complete joy into his life. Dick’s own care for Joan in the last few years of his life was nothing short of heroic; even when he began to falter last summer, he never stopped thinking about how to make Joan feel better. He kept the rest of his extended flock in view as well, John’s Ivan (and Lila) and dear Emily, and on our side Adam and Jacob, along with Sarah and Esther; his memory was razor sharp even when he hadn’t seen some of them in quite a long time.
It seems to me that Dick played music at all of our family parties; he played, and when we were all in shape, we always danced. It has been lovely to see how Alice kept up that tradition of dancing to Dick’s music. When Dick retired from teaching, his music became so central that I asked him last summer why he hadn’t become a professional musician, and he said that he didn’t think he could make a living doing it. But, I must say, his musical genius never left him, and Michael and I were very happy to have attended his penultimate concert last summer right in this room. When Michael, Jacob and I visited the week before he died, he still engaged us in questions and conversation that expanded the moment into an event. I brought music from the Rosenkavalier for him to listen to. He said he thought it the most beautiful opera, and broke down when he put the earphones on and heard the lush music. In the opera the Marschallin (a character who is coming to grips with the effects of aging and time) says: “All things must pass, like mists—like dreams.” Although it is difficult to think of Dick as truly gone, he lives on in the Jewish sense for those of us whom he touched through his life, his teaching, music and care for others.
Veronica Selver's Remarks
Provincetown, MassachusettsMy name is Veronica Selver, and I wanted to say a few words about Dick as a teacher. Mr. Miller – as we knew him then – was my high school teacher in both tenth and 12th
grades at the New Lincoln School in Manhattan. Literature was his field, and he gave us wonderful reading assignments. I remember Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Melville’s Billy Budd among other books. Reading with him was an exploration of what the author intended, what the characters felt, what the prose revealed, the historical context of the work. It was a passionate experience.
And as a student, I used to think I had a special relationship with him. We both loved books. And there was a stretch in 12th grade when I had an undue number of colds and other maladies that kept me home reading! During one such episode, Mr. Miller wrote me a note suggesting that if I preferred staying home, we could work out a plan of home studies for me. To this day, I don’t know whether he truly meant it or whether it was a strategic way of calling me back to school. I went back to school! But, of course, I took it as a further sign of our special bond.
Then, for his birthday last October a call went out to his past students at New Lincoln to send him birthday wishes. That’s when I understood that Mr. Miller was the special part of the equation, and that we each had a special bond with him. It didn’t matter if one of us was geared toward math or one of us drawn to the sciences, another drawn to art with little patience for reading. If one of us cared for history, or focused on music or preferred talking sports, Mr. Miller was able to integrate each student’s interest in his response to his or her work. As one student, Nancy Falk, said, “Mr. Miller is the first teacher who made me feel that I was smart.”
It should be noted that Dick (I did come to call him that over time!) was all of ten years older than we were when we were 17. To quote a classmate, Jackie Fisher, writing to Dick: “ We saw you as smart and serious ... but cool and cute! You had a keen understanding of who we were, what we needed, and how to help round out our lives! “
A classmate, Alan Adler wrote: “Fifty-four years later, I still recall your telling me that I had ‘intellectual curiosity.’ Alongside my talented classmates, your comment made me feel special. You were always encouraging and gave me the confidence to pursue a career in education.”
Charlotte Riley who went on to Radcliffe wrote: “I think of you often, and always as the best teacher I ever had. You opened worlds of literature to me, & I still have vivid memories of reading The Charterhouse of Parma as a class in 10th grade, & how your discussion of it made me see what a novel was for the first time. In college, when one of my teachers, asked me, ‘Where did you get your literary education?’ I felt such pride & pleasure in telling him about you.”
Jim Hawley, an economics professor in his career, wrote to Dick: “your core classes in both 10th and 12th grades were my most favorite classes and, retrospectively, formative ones for me. I specifically recall sometime well into my senior year that you said that when in college to be sure to check out intellectual history classes. You thought I'd find them both interesting and very much attuned to my interests, as you then saw them.
I often thought of your advice, clearly knowing something about me I didn't yet realize about myself.”
Nancy Lewis who went on to study art at Pratt wrote: “Happy Birthday to the guy who somehow managed to engage a vacant, horribly behaved adolescent in Chaucer. Thank you for giving me a love of literature that has lasted a lifetime, although I'm sure you often felt like banging your head on that lectern.”
In one birthday greeting after another, one thing is clear, we all loved him. And he made us better people by believing in each of us and taking us seriously.
He would lean on the lectern many a morning and begin the day reading us Murray Kempton’s political commentary in the NY Post . (It was a progressive newspaper back then!) It was exciting to us because it was a glimpse of his interests outside the classroom. He expected us to be engaged in the larger world in which we lived and he helped us understand it.
In my case, I had the good fortune of continuing to see Dick over all the years that followed high school because of our Cape connection. Dick and Joan became family friends with my sister Irene and our mother Irmi. His jazz concerts here at PAAM were part of the summer ritual we all cherished. And I did have a special bond with Dick, after all, when he generously allowed me to make a film about his summer concerts icelebration of the pleasure we had watching and listening to him and his friends make music for us.
Knowing Dick and Joan over so many years, I want to salute the closeness between them which, for a long time now, has served as a model for how my partner and I want to live our lives together, and I thank them both for that.
I miss him. I miss his friendliness, his candor – he loved to speak his mind about politics, movies, music, people! – I miss his interest in what we were up to – I miss coffee with Dick and Joan in the morning at the Cape, his love of the birds at the feeders on their deck, his crossword wizardry, his warmth.
In the tenth grade, we were studying poetry and he had us each write a poem. I wrote a poem about my father’s hands. My father had died two years before, and I described the feelings of tenderness, strength, safety I felt holding his hands, but I didn’t include any physical description of them. Dick thoughtfully and astutely pointed that out to me. He made me see the value of detail in evoking a subject. It was a great and lasting lesson in appreciating poetry.
So now, when I think of Dick, I see him, handsome, relaxed, leaning forward on his elbows on the lectern, looking out at us in class, a quiet “good-morning” that had us rapt. And I see him at the piano, here, shifting his shoulders, looking above his glasses at his fellow musicians, attentive and present.
Emily E Miller's RemarksThis is a poem by Joan McD Miller that Dick loved
You can’t get orange juice
from a parsnip
So she gave her love a lemon
Wrapped and tied with a ribbon;
He sucked the sharpness dry
Then prepared the peel for flavoring
Espresso, chiffon pie, maybe duck.
Dick Miller was my uncle and he was easy to love. If he were here he would catch my reference to Cole Porter, he might play the song for us or recommend the Teddy Wilson/ Billie Holiday recording. It is strange to be without him here in this space where he held court at the piano and at the mic for years. How can I possibly honor him adequately in front of so many of you who knew and adored your own Dick Miller? I am buoyed by a letter he wrote to me in 1987, after I wept thru my tribute to his mother, my grandmother, on her 80th birthday. Dick wrote that my emoting was not necessarily MIller-like, and that he appreciated it.
I grew up near to the other Millers in NYC and visiting them here each summer. The life that Joan and Dick created--and it felt very much to me like one life to me--was a consistent pillar in my childhood. And it was one with the forceful aesthetic of artful living. There was always music or NPR, sharpened pencils, the newspaper, double solitaire, chocolate nearby, and the intermingling smells of oil paint and bottomless pots of black coffee. There was a stillness and an order that felt hopeful and calming to me. After I moved across the country I continued the annual pilgrimage to Truro and often brought friends and dates. Dick and Joan welcomed us to coexist and contribute to their unwavering routine.
I noticed Joan’s and Dick’s devotion to each others’ creative projects. I can see Dick sitting at the table with a pile of show announcement postcards and the rolodex. Back in the days of the weekly restaurant gigs, Dick played (and sometimes even sang) Nat King Cole’s “Sweet Lorraine” for Joan. He paid attention, he distinguished his recalled experiences from what he called “family propaganda, " which, he pointed out, is not necessarily untrue. Dick was able to hold complexity with compassion and curiosity. Recently I asked Joan McD how she knew that Dick was the one for her, and without skipping a beat, she said,” He listened... he said, ‘WOW,’ and this impressed me.”
Dick was a musician, a teacher, a human with a remarkable ear. I think about this a lot-- the ability the best musicians have to listen and speak simultaneously. He relished
playing and sharing the stage to celebrate the music he loved, in community. I think this is also what made him such an adored teacher and friend.
In 2005 I interviewed Dick in the StoryCorps booth at Grand Central about work and livelihood.. Here is a little of that.
For the past 7 months I have been filled with an astonishing combination of heartbreak and gratitude. I continue to receive many gifts from my uncle. By far the greatest was his friendship. This experience, becoming friends with an uncle, a teacher, a non- parental elder who has watched you becoming you, feeling seen and respected by them as your adult self, is precious. Dick demonstrated for me loyalty with a side of realness and depression-combating strategies such as loving the rebel, playing the piano, hosting a pair of hawks, and walking with a friend.
Those of you who show up for Dick and for Joan, old friends and new, with chocolate, flowers, drawings, phone calls, espresso ice cream, music, and a bedside 83rd birthday party: WOW.
Amidst the impossibly sad project of saying goodbye is the experience of being surrounded by exquisite gestures of love from family, friends, and strangers.
May our memories of Dick be infinite blessings that we continue to share with each other and the world.
Let’s keep listening to him play.
John L Miller's RemarksDick Miller, 1933-2016
He was my little brother, born almost two and a half years after me. Although it may just be my fantasy, I think I remember our father putting me in a car and driving to the long defunct Manhattan Women’s Hospital on Halloween, 1933, when Richard Henry Miller arrived in the world. LUCKY WORLD!
Many years later our mom, a really great mom and a great grandma too, told me one day that she had had a miscarriage between our births and I remember thinking when she told me thank goodness because without that miscarriage Dick might never have happened. You see our parents were planning on just two kids.
I tell you this because I can’t imagine my life without having Dick as a brother. That name by the way was given at the request of our dad whose own father, Richard Cohen of Demopolis, Alabama, died when our father was about two years old. That was around 1895. We got the name Miller when our paternal grandmother remarried a Miller after moving to New York City.
He was always Dick or Dickie as we grew up; rarely Richard which was too formal for a little brother. We grew up together with an interest in music: jazz for Dick, Broadway show tunes for me and classical for both of us. Though Dick loved the good show tunes and would jazz them up with that wonderful touch of his.
What about little brother growing up? Well he became a terrific three-sport athlete in high school. And he went on to play and pitch for his college baseball team. But good as he was it was jazz that eventually held sway. He began studying the piano at a very early age, maybe six or seven years old.
He was blessed with a perfect ear and could frequently play something back after hearing it just once. And that once usually came from his teachers, which I’ve been told is a real no-no, particularly with
students with that perfect ear. As a consequence Dick never properly learned to read music. He’d hear a classical exercise as a kid and be able to play it back. By the time he was in his teens Dick just needed to hear something once and he could play it back.
He achieved his masters and doctorate degrees at Columbia and became an English professor. I do know he was a popular lecturer probably because in addition to literature he could throw in his interest and knowledge in sports and in music. I was witness on occasion to his speedy mastery of the New York Times crossword puzzle…… in ink!
Dick was a sweet boy and a gentle, kind, generous and gracious adult, things he got from our mother. I have now lived almost seven months without my brother. In recent years before he passed, our relationship had mostly existed via weekly telephone conversations, often spur of the moment calls. Frequently it was something one or both of us had read in the Times: a political piece, a sports story. Sometimes an obit of a player we had seen as kids at the old Polo Ground or Madison Square Garden when it was between 49th and 50th streets on Eighth Avenue.
Dick loved the New York Rangers and as quite a young boy became friendly with a 1940’s star named Edgar or Eddie Laprade, a lovely man who welcomed Dick and me into the team dressing room following games.
Later Dick was the best athlete in his high school class, at one time holding the record for soccer goals in a season. He went on to Wesleyan University where he pitched for the baseball team and excelled academically once he moved from his fraternity house to a room at the home of his faculty advisor. From then on it was dean’s list every semester.
I tell you all of this because they are early Dick Miller tidbits that more recent friends may not know about. Dick’s life has centered on New York and Truro and music and of course the joy of living in close proximity to Luke, Jenn and Alice, while I retired to northwest Connecticut after years in television news and documentary writing.
We Millers are a relatively small family but our feelings for our departed brother, uncle, father and grandfather are enormous, especially on an occasion such as this. I don’t have to tell you Dick Miller was a very special person, very talented, very loving and for all of his friends gathered here today someone we will never forget. He was truly one of a kind.