As a child in Hancock County, West Virginia, Paul Miller received valuable advice about college from his Extension agent. Later, as a higher education leader and West Virginia University’s 15th president, Dr. Miller would make Extension an even more powerful tool for improving lives.
Dr. Paul Miller passed away June 5 at age 98.
His childhood 4-H experiences inspired his educational goals.
“My involvement in 4-H helped to make me a good student, and I became valedictorian of my class. I began to dream of becoming a county 4-H and agricultural agent,” he once said. “My parents didn’t really know what it meant to go to college, nor did I. Hancock County WVU Extension Agent Walter C. Gumbel insisted that I become the first of my family line to have that experience. He was first among those who helped my parents and me to understand college attendance as more than an impossible dream.”
At the height of the Great Depression, Miller attended Bethany College for one year before transferring to WVU and working his way through school. When he graduated, Extension Director J.O. Knapp invited him to serve as an agent in Ritchie County.
“The boyhood dream was reborn and I accepted on the spot,” Miller remembered.
He served as an agent in both Ritchie and Nicholas counties before joining the military when the United States entered World War II. In the U.S. Army Air Corps, he served as a navigator in the AAF Ferry Command. After the war ended, he enrolled in graduate studies at Michigan State University and earned a Ph.D. in anthropology and sociology in 1953.
Miller then launched what was to become a 50+ year academic career, first at Michigan State where he served as a faculty member, Director of Cooperative Extension, and provost. In 1962 he became president of West Virginia University.
With his background with Extension, Miller made expanding the University’s land-grant service mission a major priority. At that time, Extension programs generally operated out of schools of agriculture.
“I felt Extension was so powerful that it needed to come out of that narrowly defined role and become an arm of the whole university,” Miller said. “We created the Center for Appalachian Studies and Development to house all the University’s outreach programs. It was relatively unique nationally at that time. Though the center no longer exists in name, Extension still acts as an arm of the whole university. I think this was a unique contribution that I was able to make as president.”
The innovative Extension model that Miller created is helping WVU the way in redefining engagement for the 21st century, according to current President E. Gordon Gee.
“Even now, a half-century later, many of nation’s Extension offices still reside in university agricultural programs,” Gee said. “Because WVU Extension is an autonomous unit, its experts have the freedom to collaborate with educators from across all university disciplines. Extension gives West Virginians the latest knowledge about science, technology, health, education and economic development. That is a powerful legacy of Dr. Miller’s that will continue to improve lives for 1.8 million West Virginians for decades to come.”
Miller built such a strong reputation for academic and service leadership that President Lyndon Johnson appointed him the first Assistant Secretary for Education in the U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare in 1966.
After two years in that role and a year as professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, he served for a decade as president of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). After stepping down as president, he continued to serve as a professor there. Following retirement from RIT, he served as an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia well into his 90s.
Miller chronicled his career in a memoir, Bridging Campus and Community.
Through it all, he never forgot that 4-H and a caring Extension agent launched him on his successful career path.
“Dr. Miller was a true inspiration for many in WVU Extension and its statewide 4-H program, and I am deeply saddened at his passing,” said WVU Dean and Director of Extension Steve Bonanno. “He attributed the beginning of his successful career to 4-H and his WVU Extension agent who introduced him to the idea of attending college. Over the years, he did the same for many young people, encouraging them to dream big and go to college. He is truly an example of the possibilities in 4-H to make the best better.”
WVU President Emeritus David C. Hardesty Jr. recalled Miller fondly. “He was president of WVU when Susan and I came to the university as students,” Hardesy said. “His daughter Paula was in our class and we became friends. I have always remembered his speech to the first year class. Over the years he was a role model for me and many other college presidents he knew and mentored. His legacy is one of leadership and service in the land-grant tradition.”
In 2006, Miller and his wife created the Paul A. and Francena L. Miller Presidential Scholarship at WVU, which provides an eligible 4-Her a guaranteed $3,000 a year for four years. They also created an endowment to support the WVU Libraries’ West Virginia and Regional Collection.
Francena, Miller’s wife of 44 years, passed away in 2010. He was also preceded in death by his first wife Catherine Spiker Miller and his son Thomas A. Miller. He is survived by his daughter Paula Miller Nolan, son-in-law Michael F. Nolan and faithful canine companion Ben of Montrose, Colorado; grandsons Ryan Thrush of Delta, Colorado; Evan Thrush of San Anselmo, California, and Christopher Nolan of San Tan Valley, Arizona; and seven great-grandchildren.
Contributions in his memory can be made to HopeWest, Montrose, Colorado. A private memorial service will be held at a later date.
CONTACT: University Relations
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