By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
Bill Miller’s children like to say their father was short in stature but larger than life.
William Russell Miller was born April 6, 1922, in segregated Kentucky and went on to become a vice president at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., spending 34 years at the company until retiring in 1986. After leaving Goodyear, he worked at the University of Akron and remained involved in other business ventures, spent two years teaching capitalism in Russia under the Peace Corps and was active in numerous Akron-area organizations.
He was a World War II Army veteran who fought in the South Pacific in a segregated unit. After the war he got a bachelor’s degree under the G.I. Bill at Tennessee State University and then a master’s degree at the University of Akron.
He died Dec. 26 in Cocoa Beach, Fla., after a lengthy illness. He previously lived in the Akron area and in Shaker Heights.
While Bill Miller was maybe all of 5-feet 9-inches tall, “He took up all of the space in the room when he was there,” said one of his daughters, Shana Miller.
“He grew up in the segregated South, the Jim Crow South,” she said. He and his brother could not attend a nearby white high school and instead lived weekdays in Somerset, Ky., to attend the all-black Dunbar High School, named for poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, where they also worked odd jobs to pay expenses.
“They would hitchhike to get back and work on the family farm” in Albany, Ky., on weekends, Shana Miller said.
Her father never let racism deter him and had a love for and knew the importance of education and often became upset with people who wouldn’t take advantage of schooling, she said.
“I entered school able to read because of my dad,” she said.
He worked at Goodyear Atomic Corp. in Piketon, Ohio, and then moved to Goodyear’s corporate headquarters in Akron, where he eventually became vice president of governmental personnel relations. His family believes he was the first African-American vice president at a major rubber company.
“He was always motivated and self-driven, up at 5 o’clock in the morning,” Shana Miller said. “He fought and fought and fought.”
Because of his drive and ingenuity, they became one of the first black families to live in Fairlawn in the late 1960s, she said.
It wasn’t easy for an African-American family to buy a home in the area during that period, she said. Her father passed through Fairlawn in 1967 and saw a house for sale that he liked but wasn’t allowed to look at, Shana Miller said. So, her dad asked a white Goodyear employee to look at the house. The employee bought the home and then deeded it over to her father, she said.
“He was fearless like that,” Shana said. “My dad didn’t let that deter him. He saw something he wanted.”
Their presence initially caused hard feelings, she said. But they became longtime friends with neighbors, she said.
Her father started golfing while he was in his 50s, she said.
“It suited his temperament,” she said. “He always had to keep moving. He was in his 70s when he stopped jogging. He golfed into his 80s.”
After Dunbar High School closed with the end of segregation, her father organized an alumni association in the 1970s and started a scholarship fund, she said.
At the age of 68, Bill Miller entered the Peace Corps. He spent two years in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, near China and North Korea and about 70 miles northwest of Tokyo, teaching the free enterprise system to Russian business people there.
“Bill was ahead of his time in many respects,” said retired Summit County Common Pleas Judge James Williams, a longtime friend. “He was one of our outstanding business professionals in this area. He was an outstanding individual. He had an infectious smile. Overall, he was a fine person and one the Akron area can be proud of in terms of being a pacesetter and being a solid professional.”
Glenn Stephens recalled meeting Bill Miller for the first time about 28 years ago in Akron through the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha. Stephens said he was in graduate school then at the University of Akron.
“He became a mentor to me,” Stephens said. While Mr. Miller was in Russia with the Peace Corps, he loaned Stephens money to start a joint construction consulting business, Stephens Miller Consultants. Mr. Miller eventually retired from consulting, Stephens said.
He said he visited Mr. Miller in Florida just a couple of weeks before he died.
“He taught me a lot about business and the game of golf and a lot on life. I will forever be grateful,” Stephens said. “He gave a lot of himself to his community and family.”
Besides being a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Mr. Miller was a member of the Beta Rho chapter of Sigma Pi Phi Boule and was a 33rd degree Mason.
He was chairman of six of at least 19 community and corporate boards that he joined over the years, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, FAMU College of Business Advisory Board, Alpha Homes Inc., Akron City Hospital, Green Cross Hospital, Huntington Bank, Akron Roundtable and Summit County Children Services. In 1988, he headed the nine-member Summit County Infrastructure Committee charged with deciding how to spend $5.1 million annually received from a $1.2 billion Ohio public-works bond issue.
Mr. Miller is survived by his wife of 18 years, Edith. Besides Shana Miller, he is survived by children Richard Ross, Anita Rankin, and Rosanne Miller; two sisters; grandchildren; great-grandchildren; nieces and nephews; and a sister-in-law.
A one-hour visitation starts at 8:30 a.m. today at Stewart & Calhoun Funeral Home, 529 W. Thornton St., Akron. A homegoing service follows at 9:30 a.m. in the Stewart & Calhoun chapel.
The family requested instead of flowers that donations be made to the William R. and Edith Pitt-Stamps Miller Endowment Fund, care of Tennessee State University Foundation, 3500 John A. Merritt Blvd., Nashville, TN 37209.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.