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Centenarian Expert and Older Adults Advocate

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January 2009 Calendar - William S. Miller, 100

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 William S. Miller, 100
Written by Irvin Miller (Bill's son) with contributions from the Miller family

William S. Miller, 100

As one writes about a century gone by using the historical template of the present to explain the past, one wonders whether he is relating or creating history.  William Samuel Miller was born five years after the great Baltimore fire of 1904 where Baltimore, as many of our great cities of the time, was an urban tinderbox.  Waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe were moving in to this port city creating ethnic neighborhoods that developed youthful rivalries.  William was born to immigrant parents who set up a tailoring business in the section referred to as East Baltimore.  As he grew older he would often run during his deliver of pants to customers to save time.  This running may have laid the foundation for his track and cross-country careers in high school and college.     

        When Billís father had precious time to spare from being the proprietor of the tailor shop, he would teach him the trade and entertain him with mathematical tricks. Bill went to the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, an engineering high school, and later on to become the first member of his family to graduate from college.  While his younger brother went into business, Bill decided to go into engineering.  One could think about the movie Gentlemenís Agreement, with Gregory Peck, as Bill had to face the cultural mores of the time.  The great depression hit the country just as he was graduating from college etching some harsh memories for him to carry into the future.  He eventually got a job in Washington, D.C., working in the Naval Gun Factory where the government designed the big guns for the battleships of World War II.  As history has strange twists, he had been invited to the wedding of the father of House of Representative Chairperson Nancy Pelosi by one of the bridesmaids.  Nancyís father later became the Mayor of Baltimore.  This was also during the McCarthy era when government employees had to make sure that they did not belong to the wrong organizations or had questionable personal lives.

Bill Miller and family photos
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        Bill met his wife Pearl, an accomplished athlete in tennis, golf, and bowling, at the local Y.  After marrying, they moved in with her parents, but soon bought a house that was walking distance to their parents.  Both of Billís parents died at an early age from heart failure with his father missing out on the birth of his grandsons.  Bill had hopes for his children to follow his life plan: go to the same high school and college, run track and cross country, and to be engineers like him.  To start this plan, he helped them practice their math facts and encouraged them to be good students in math.  He taught them the math tricks that his father taught him decades earlier.  In retrospect, his sons were grateful for the direction he set for them.  When his oldest son initially had trouble with geometry, he and his wife helped organize his studying approach and rebuilt his confidence.  Coincidently, both sons went to the same high school, college, were runners and had successful careers.  ďLike father like sonsĒ!!
        Bill directed his engineering skill to model airplane building, model railroading, and building miniature doll houses and furniture.  His wife built the scenery for the model railroading and art work and provided other house furnishings for the miniatures.  Bill became well known in the model railroading and doll house communities because of the articles he wrote for modeler magazines.   In step by step details, he described how to build the dozens of railroad cars and furniture that he designed and built. 
         Bill stopped running at the age 70 and took up the more sedentary sport of golf with his wife Pearl.  Bill seems to know everyone in Baltimore.  He knew all of his fatherís relatives down to third cousins once removed.  This knowledge encouraged his older son to learn genealogy and write a computer program to help build the family tree.  Shortly after their 61st wedding anniversary, Pearl passed away at the age of 86. 
         At the age 89, his sons bought Bill his first computer, and let him teach himself how to use it. Bill found a new direction in life.  He volunteered at the local library and taught seniors how to use the computer and navigate the internet.  He was well recognized by the Baltimore County Public Library for his years of dedicated service.
         After Pearl had passed away, her sister Bernice and Bill set up a hot line so that they could check on each otherís health every morning.  Shortly after his sister-in-law passed away, Bill decided to move into an assisted living facility.  At the age 95, he decided to stop driving - to the relief the family.  Bill became a de facto entertainment director and was used in the advertisements for his place of residence.  Whenever possible, the Pikesville staff of the assisted living facility has prospective residents and their children talk to Bill while looking over the premises.  He is their best salesman.  

         Billís exposure to cultural pressures, the great depression, and the joys and pleasures found in day-to-day life helped him prepare his sons to face the re-occurrences in todayís world.  A little over a year ago, Bill met a special friend Jeanne who has given a new spirit and meaning to his life.  Bill and Jeanne were featured in the Baltimore Sun in February 2008 as a special couple for the Valentineís Day issue.  Bill still enjoys mathematical games and tricks which he tries on his friends and doctors.  Bill continued interest in learning new things, his sense of humor, and his zest for life, although at a slower pace today, has influenced his two children, five grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. 


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