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Miller will be missed at commencement ceremonies

Liz Harter | Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Saint Mary’s community has continued to pay tribute to former chair of the department of mathematics and professor Donald E. Miller since he died Sunday, April 13, in his home after a six-month battle with cancer.

Miller, 67, taught mathematics at the College since 1967 and chaired the department since 1997. He was assistant coach of the Belles softball team, a position he took over in the 2000-2001 year. He also served as the faculty advisor for the team, helping them to keep up with their majors, grades and other scholastic matters.

He also served as the marshal at Commencement ceremonies for more than two decades.

“Don was the ideal College marshal,” Commencement Committee Chair Susan Dampeer said in a statement. “[The event] is consistently beautiful, dignified and flawless because of his attention to detail. Don loved the ceremony and understood its significance in the lives of our students and their families. It is hard to imagine Commencement without him.”

His daughter, Laura, is graduating with a degree in music education this year.

She said it will be hard that this is the first year her father won’t be leading the Commencement procession and the year she will be walking in that procession.

“I have watched my dad lead the graduation procession for as long as I can remember, and not having him marching in front of me as I graduate may very well be the hardest part of Saturday’s Commencement for me,” she said.

Laura said even though her father won’t physically be with her on her graduation day, she knows he will still be with her.

“I’m sure I’ll be able to find comfort in knowing that even though he isn’t marching on the ground, wearing the blue Saint Mary’s marshal sash that my grandmother made for the school, he will be marching right along side me,” she said.

She has been handing out purple ribbons, the symbol of pancreatic cancer, to her classmates to wear underneath their graduation robes since they aren’t allowed to wear anything extra on top of them.

She said she hopes people realize that even though he is not leading the procession he will still be there.

“I hope people realize that even though they can’t see his white beard and smiling face leading the procession this year, he will be there, proudly watching over us, and in all of our hearts and minds,” she said.

A Facebook group, “Donald E. Miller Memorial (and fan club!),” was created shortly after his death to honor him.

Over 200 Saint Mary’s students, alumnae and friends of Miller’s family joined the group, leaving notes of sympathy and memories of Miller on the group wall.

“As a teacher, he was always doing something crazy,” sophomore Theresa Earle said. “He called tests celebrations and he made sure that everyone talked in every class. He often said that a day in which you did not contribute to class was a day wasted.”

Associate professor of mathematics Mary Connolly agreed with Earle.

“Don was the consummate teacher,” Connolly said. “His students would all say that he challenged them and led them to levels they never thought possible. Students were always his first priority, whether working with them in class, in the office, on the softball field or in developing new or enhanced programs of study. His enduring legacy will be the students whose lives he changed.”

She said many students and alumnae attended Miller’s funeral, which was held Thursday at Little Flower Catholic Church.

“His record of service to the College is extensive, but his real legacy will be the students whose lives he changed,” Connolly said. “The number of students who found his course tough as nails and ended up loving him is astounding.”

She said the department has been getting notes of sympathy from everyone imaginable. There is a bulletin board in the mathematics hallway where students and members of the community can write remembrances of Miller. The math professors have been adding notes they have received from alumnae and faculty at other local colleges.

Miller often donned a red suit and transformed into Santa Claus during the holiday season and many students have written on the memory board “everyone already misses you dearly, Santa.”

Miller’s family asks any donations be made to the Donald E. Miller Memorial Fund at the College.