Most of the time when I sit down at the keyboard to write this column, I already know what I’m going to say and it’s simply a matter of getting it into an essay that is grammatically acceptable to the editor of your newspaper.
But on this predawn March, Monday morning I sit here struggling to compose the first sentence to pay tribute to a man who has been on my mind and even in my deep-sleep dreams pretty much around the clock since early in the day last Wednesday, when Julie Miller called to tell me that her husband, Tom, had taken a sudden, unexpected turn to the worse.
Actually, it was not totally unexpected, it simply happened a few weeks earlier than any of those of us who knew and loved him, including Julie and their four adult children, were prepared to accept and deal with. In fact, three of his and my bosom buddies, who live up east, and I had planned to spend most of yesterday, today and tomorrow doing the things that old friends do when they haven’t seen each other in a couple or three years.
Three of us, including Tom, had physical limitations that would have prevented our mutual participation in anything very strenuous, but all five of us are blessed with the gift of gab and a love of music. Suffice to say that neither of us would have been threatened by boredom, had we been able to pull of the visit.
Instead, I’m sitting here perfectly aware of the impossibility of paying proper homage, in the space allocated to my column, to a man who has been my boss, mentor, close friend, confidant, hero and big brother for the last 42 years minus about five months. In fact, I doubt very seriously that I could do Tom the justice he so commendably deserves in a thousand page book.
I remember, as though it happened yesterday, the hot July evening in 1974 when I first met Tom Miller at a small, street-level, brick building that had previously served as a retail store on North Main Street in London, Kentucky. The building, at that time, had four offices partitioned off with flimsy, cheap, imitation-wood wall board and several hundred square feet of open concrete floor space.
Tom’s office was the largest of the four and the 2x4s framing its “walls” were still exposed inside it. He was wearing jeans, sneakers and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I was dressed in a three piece suit but Tom did apologize for the fact that the air conditioning was not working.
I was there to interview for a position at what would become Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC) which is, today, one of the most, if not absolutely the very most, successful economic development companies that had their humble beginnings in President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
We had planned for the interview to last 30 minutes or so. Tom had stayed in the office until 5:30 while I drove 80 miles, most of them well over the speed limit, from Whitesburg to London.
I sat beside his desk in an old steel folding chair and we talked until one of us noticed that it was getting dark outside. He glanced at his watch, muttered something unprintable, and told me he had a very pregnant wife at home who probably wasn’t very happy with him right then.
That was the first of many, many times that Tom Miller and I talked well past lengths of time at night of which both our wives were not real happy. Actually I can’t speak for Julie but I can tell you for sure that my first wife put me in the dog house on numerous occasions because Tom and I had spent the evening hours with Linda Ronstadt, Emmy Lou Harris and Willie Nelson well past her bedtime.
As I said, going in, there’s no appropriate way to describe Tom Miller in one little essay. KHIC is only one of numerous nonprofit organizations that owe their very existence to Tom Miller. Berea-based Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) is another that would not have been formed without Tom’s initiative. Similar companies in Africa owe their existence to him.
But the bottom line is that a super special man I loved, and always will, like a big brother, passed over to the other side last Saturday morning and I miss him far too much to put into words. As far as I’m concerned this old world is not nearly as good as it was before last Saturday.
Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Ike Adams at [email protected] or on Facebook or 249 Charlie Brown Road, Paint Lick, KY 40461.