KETCHIKAN — Longtime Ketchikan resident and newsman Tom J. Miller died suddenly at home early Monday morning.
Miller, a reporter with the Ketchikan Daily News for more than two decades, had spent the previous night doing what he did best: entertaining dinner guests at his North End home with his wife of 31 years, Terry Miller.
According to his family, Tom Miller, a veteran of the Vietnam War, once wrote that he had held 25 jobs “before I settled down,” including car jockey, theater usher, logger, commercial fisherman, can-factory worker, substitute teacher, cab driver, charter fisherman, mountaintop radio technician, bartender, children’s counselor, disc jockey, fish slimer and musician.
“The one he most enjoyed describing, when telling stories over dinner, was that of over-the-road-automatic-laboratory-animal-watering-system-installation technician,” his family writes.
“His favorite job was the one that lasted the rest of his life, more than 20 years, as a reporter for the Ketchikan Daily News, where staff photographer Hall Anderson served as a mentor when Tom began to fill in as a news photographer, too.(Tom) never forgot being given the chance at the job even though he had life experience instead of a college degree. He knew he had been there a while when he was introduced to a newsroom visitor as ‘our senior reporter,’ and was feeling smug about that, until he realized the publisher meant ‘our oldest reporter.’”
Daily News co-publisher Tena Williams said Wednesday that she “just adored” Miller.
“He was as kind and caring a friend as you could wish for,” she said. “I admired him as a husband to Terry and father to Jay, and he was one of the best reporters I’ll ever know.
“It was a privilege to work with him; he’ll be next to impossible to replace. We’re all going to miss Tom tremendously.”
City Mayor Lew Williams III, also co-publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News, said Miller will be missed “not only as a reporter, but as a friend.
“He added to the fun of going to work every day,” Williams said. “His humor and professionalism gave the Ketchikan Daily News great credibility.”
Miller wrote about a variety of issues, including local and state politics, criminal cases and rescues. His primary “beat” was the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, which Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer said Miller covered with a sense of fairness.
Kiffer said Miller had the right attitude for a small-town reporter: He didn’t get caught up in the drama of a government meeting, instead sticking with the “meat” of what happened.
From a professional standpoint, Kiffer said, he never had any quarrel with Miller’s articles.
“If he quoted me as saying something stupid, it’s because I said it,” Kiffer said.
The two also were personal friends, Kiffer said, adding that everyone will miss Miller. Kiffer on Wednesday said he had talked to many people about Miller since Monday.
“Almost everyone has Tom Miller stories,” he said.
Kiffer’s story was a recollection of Miller sitting with a “rag tag” group of KRBD-FM organizers, figuring out how to plan a radio station. Miller was one of the founders of KRBD, and his was the first voice heard when it went on the air in May 1976. His family writes that he played “The Fool” by Quicksilver Messenger Service. He also ran the first broadcast from Prince of Wales Island after KRBD opened its translator there in the mid-1980s to provide original content from the big island; he served as the station’s program director, as well, and, later, as president of its board of directors.
Kiffer added that Miller had a gentle nature, and would rather deal with problems in a humorous manner, pointing out the absurdity of a situation.
“In 40 years, I don’t remember hearing Tom ever raise his voice or get mad,” Kiffer said. “Like all journalists, he grumbled ... but I never heard him really sound angry.”
Chip Porter said Wednesday that he and Miller played poker together regularly, but most of the stories from those games shouldn’t be told in a newspaper article.
“We have some great games, and sometimes get carried away,” Porter said. “And he takes a lot of my money.”
Porter said he and Miller met many years ago, but it was in the last few years that they became “buddies.” They discovered some similar interests, he said.
“We both really like loud music, for instance,” Porter said, adding “I never heard a mean word out of him.”
Miller’s kind and helpful nature was noted by many.
Miller’s family writes, “It was said with great accuracy that he could tell people who needed to hear them difficult truths, but with such kindness that they were taken as kindly as they were meant, and there were no hard feelings. He had a gift for loving people, and for laughing. He cracked himself up.”
Kate McConnon said Miller was one of the first people she and her husband, Karl Grahl, met when they arrived in Ketchikan nearly 40 years ago.
“We just thought, ‘Gosh, with guys like him, this town might not be too bad to live in,’” she said Wednesday.
McConnon joined Miller, Dave Donovan and several others to form the one of the early KRBD boards of directors, and worked with Miller to get the station on the air.
“We had no idea at the time that it would take off and become what it is today,” she said, adding that Miller had a hand in many Ketchikan ventures.
McConnon recalled when the Ketchikan Gateway Borough invested in its first small bus, the start of what is now a boroughwide public transit system with three routes.
“Guess who was the bus driver going around town picking people up? Tom Miller,” she said. “He’s had a variety of experiences in this town. He had a lot of energy and a real zest for life. He wanted to be in the middle of whatever the heck was going on.”
Miller was born Sept. 11, 1948, on the South Side of Chicago, the first of the eight children of Terese Zeller Miller and Jim T. Miller. He attended Catholic grade schools, “went to the seminary for an unproductive year,” and graduated from St. Rita High School in 1966, his family writes.
“He treasured his responsibility as the oldest child and, when his father died 20 years ago, took to heart his new position as patriarch,” his family writes. “He felt his brothers and sisters were his great good fortune. Each was his favorite for a different reason.”
Miller worked various jobs in Chicago, but always longed to leave the city, his family writes, “though not the way he finally did: He was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam.”
He relished his time there, though, as well as Thailand, which he visited while serving. According to Miller’s family, he was on the way back to live in Thailand when he stopped briefly in Ketchikan in 1973, the summer Ketchikan International Airport opened.
“He had heard that if a person lasted through a winter in Ketchikan, he might stay longer,” his family writes. “The people, the air, and the beauty kept him here the rest of his life.”
Miller had met his wife, Terry, in 1966 after writing her a fan letter when he read a Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine story she had written. His family writes that they were good friends for years before they married in Wisconsin on Alaska Day, Oct. 18, 1980.
“He remained her biggest fan,” his son writes.
Music and photography were lifelong passions for Miller. He filled a book with his own songs, and played a solo guitar piece during one of the First City Players Jazz and Cabaret festival performances. In addition to all his other jobs, he was a partner in The Resource Book and Record Store in Ketchikan in the late 1970s.
He also talked about writing a book, which he wanted to call “The Full Moon Never Sets,” his family recalls.
Miller had stories for every occasion. His family writes that one of his favorite topics “over dinner, or in the grocery-store aisle, or if someone said ‘how are things?’ was anything involving his son, whose studying rocket science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was a thrill for a man mostly self-educated and better read than most.”
Miller was preceded in death by his parents, Terese and Jim Miller; his brother- and sister-in-law, Jim and Francine Lindt; and his mother-in-law, Mercedes Lindt.
He is survived by his wife, Terry, and son, Jay, of Ketchikan; brothers, Paul Miller of Russia, George (Sue) Miller of Orland Park, Ill., Pat (Denise) Miller of Genoa City, Wis., and Mike (Kiki “Lilly”) Miller of Clintonville, Wis.; sisters, Mary (Nate) Finch of Crystal Lake, Ill., Ann (Paul Wolter) Miller of Baraboo, Wis., and Barbara Kutnik of Baltimore; and many nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, “with whom he treasured roughhousing and talking philosophy,” his family writes. “He was well known among parents and dog owners for revving the young ones up right before bed, and then going home.”
Miller encouraged everyone to consider and discuss with their families organ and tissue donation.
A celebration of Miller’s life and a potluck is scheduled for 1 p.m. today at the Ted Ferry Civic Center, with “the Rev.” Jack Lee officiating. Donations can be made to the Tom Miller Memorial Fund at Tongass Federal Credit Union.