New endowment supports "Far Above ... The Campaign for Cornell"

Student services position named for Frank B. Miller, who "lived and breathed for his family and his students"
Friday, August 8, 2008

Frank B. Miller, who helped lead the ILR School, Cornell and Ithaca communities for six decades, was known for his intellectualism and wit.

Kindness, though, defined him.

"He was the most considerate and gentle man I ever met," said son Brian Miller ’79.

Miller and his wife, Heidi Miller, are endowing the ILR School's Director of Student Services position in honor of the 31-year ILR faculty member.

The gift was made in support of "Far Above … The Campaign for Cornell," which continues through 2011.  The ILR School target is $60 million.

Professor Frank B. Miller took 2 a.m. phone calls from distressed students.  He comforted Cornell's sick, going room to room at the Cayuga Medical Center several days a week during his retirement.

"That was my father, driving up to see a Cornell student who had broken a leg," said Brian Miller, a College of Arts and Sciences graduate who is sought out at university events by ILR alums. "They say, 'Your father was one of the best teachers I had' or 'I had more fun in your father's class than I thought possible.'"

When Frank Miller ran late for nightly 6:30 dinners at home with his wife, Charlene, and their four children – Stephen, Patricia, Kevin and Brian -- it was because he was helping a student at ILR, Brian said.

"My father lived and breathed for his family and his students.  He was more interested in them than in his own personal or financial comfort," Brian Miller said.

Rather than take on consulting opportunities or scale back in the summer, Frank Miller was full tilt at ILR throughout the year, his son said. "My father chose to spend 12 months of the year improving the lives of his students."

Frank Miller, 84 when he died in 2006, arrived in Ithaca in 1947 as one of ILR's first graduate students and as a veteran of World War II.  He served in the South Pacific as a U.S. Army medic and chaplain's assistant.

After earning a Ph.D. here, Miller served on the ILR faculty for 31 years.  For five of those years, he was also ILR's student services director, then known as "Director of Resident Instruction."

Miller designed ILR's first course on women in the workplace and convinced Alice Cook to come out of retirement to teach it with him.  Miller chaired ILR's Organizational Behavior Department, and also taught human relations courses.

Miller became a professor emeritus in 1985, but continued teaching part time for another 10 years at ILR and at Bernard Baruch College.

He also continued as the de facto poet laureate of ILR.  Frank Miller wrote poems poking fun at himself and at his colleagues, then read them aloud at ILR gatherings.  Professor Emeritus Ronald Donovan still keeps several of Miller's poems on his desk at home.

Frank Miller contributed to the local community in many ways, from serving as a lector at Roman Catholic Masses on campus to carrying the mace at graduation for 20 years.

The symbolic staff held across his chest, Miller marched at the front of the line at graduation, just behind the university president.

When successors didn't follow protocol, Miller wrote a three-page document describing the ins and outs of mace-bearing traditions and delivered it to the Cornell Office of Commencement.

"He wanted to make things the best they could be," said Brian Miller, a resident of Greenwich, Conn., and chief executive of World Picture Network in New York City.

That's why he was glad to speak to students at an Alice Cook House gathering several years ago, Miller said.  He gave it his all "and had a great time."

There was always talk at home, Brian Miller said, that his parents would retire to their home state of Oregon.

Years later, when he asked his mother when they were going back west, Miller said, she responded, "Well, why would we do that?  All our friends are here."