Update: An earlier version of this article stated that the Pima County Interfaith Council is defunct. It remains active and will celebrate its 25th anniversary in March. Visit www.pimacountyinterfaith.org.
George Miller, mayor of Tucson from 1991 to 1999, died Dec. 25 at the age of 92.
Born in Detroit, Miller was a Tucsonan since 1939 and briefly attended Tucson High School. He served as a U.S. Marine in World War II, was wounded in the Battle of Saipan and awarded the Purple Heart. After the war he earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s in education from the University of Arizona. He taught American history in the Amphitheater Public Schools district and in Michigan. While in Michigan, he was forced to leave teaching because of his refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era. He then operated a business as a painting contractor for 31 years. Always politically active, he eventually ran for public office, serving as a Tucson city councilman from 1977 to 1991.
Among his chief accomplishments, according to his family, Miller provided leadership for enacting city ordinances prohibiting smoking in restaurants, hiring magistrates based on merit and establishing a sign code. He helped create the Job Path job training program for low-income workers and the KIDCO afterschool program. He successfully advocated for the creation of the Domestic Violence Commission and the GLBT Commission, and pressed for the adoption of a hate-crimes law, making Tucson one of the first cities in the nation to have such a law.
“George was a leader with vision. He brought reason, compassion and compromise to every table. And he did this with his truly fine-tuned wit, his wry sense of humor and that twinkle in his eye,” said Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim, who will officiate at a memorial service for Miller on Sunday, Jan. 11 at 2 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.
Calling him a mentor, friend, “and a steady guiding hand to so many people,” Aaron also cited Miller’s leadership in the Jewish community, from partnering with the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona to create the Freedom Run for Soviet Jews, to serving on Chaverim’s adult education committee for more than 20 years.
Praising his commitment to civil rights, Rabbi Arthur Oleisky, emeritus rabbi at Congregation Anshei Israel, called Miller “a bright spot to the Jewish community and also to the Tucson community.” He recalled that Miller persuaded him to join the nascent Pima County Interfaith Council, despite Oleisky’s initial reluctance because Anshei Israel was already involved in a smaller interfaith group. Miller also served on the Jewish Federation’s Marmis Humanitarian Award committee when Oleisky was chair.
While Miller “was not especially involved publicly, Jewishly, he did something that astonished the people of Tucson – he invited a number of kids to the mayor’s office to light Chanukah candles. And that’s a big splash from someone whose name is Miller and is not identified Jewishly,” said Oleisky.
Current Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild notes that “four of the last seven mayors of Tucson have been Jewish – Mayor Davis, Mayor Volgy, Mayor Miller and myself. It’s interesting in a community of our size.”
While Rothschild and his Democratic predecessor didn’t engage in theological discussions, “George found in his Judaism, I think, a lot of his ethical and moral and social positions. He came from a classic Reform background that put the causes of the poor, the causes of anti-discrimination at the heart of his religious beliefs,” says Rothschild, adding that Miller also was likely influenced by his experiences as a veteran of World War II, “when the country was required to come together for a common cause … people of all different backgrounds, religions and race came together.”
“George was a decorated Marine; he told me that it was somewhat discouraging to go to war against the Nazis only to find anti-Semitism looming hugely in his own backyard, i.e., the discrimination in the Marines,” said Aaron. “George was always fighting discrimination.”
As for Miller’s greatest achievements as mayor, Rothschild believes he would have pointed to “his emphasis on using the resources of the city government to help those in most need,” through his direction of the police department, the water department and especially the housing department.
Tom Volgy, who served on the City Council with Miller and preceded him as mayor, told the Arizona Daily Star that Miller “dedicated a very large part of his adult life dealing with social justice issues,” both as a politician and before that as an activist. “He was involved in one of the first sit-ins in the late ’50s and early ’60s in Tucson on the lunch counters when they were racially segregated.”
Miller earned many awards, including the UA Alumni Association Distinguished Citizen award in 1993 and the Tucson Urban League’s Whitney Young Humanitarian Award and the ACLU Civil Libertarian Award, both in 2000. The George Miller-Golf Links Library was named for Miller in 1999.
After retiring as mayor, Miller went on to teach history and government classes at Pima Community College and later, as a volunteer, taught citizenship classes through Pima County Adult Education.
He served on the boards of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, Congregation Chaverim and Job Path, among others.
Stuart Mellan, JFSA president and CEO, noted that Miller and his wife, Roslyn, were “always mainstays at Super Sunday,” the Federation’s annual phone-a-thon.
Bryan Davis, director of the JCRC, praised the Millers for their longtime commitment to the group. “Their thoughtfulness and passion for strengthening our community has added tremendous value to the work of the JCRC … That support, from a couple that have been doing this work for so many decades, is an inspiration to everyone around the JCRC table.”
Miller is survived by his wife of 47 years, Roslyn; four children from his first marriage to Ruth Forer, Emily (Stephen) Keeler, David (Christine) Miller, Andrew (Denise) Miller and Philip “Barney” (Jodi) Miller; Roslyn’s children, Vera (Roger) Pfeuffer, Gene (Melissa) Einfrank, Robert (Esther) Einfrank and Miriam (Blake) Girard; 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to Casa Maria, Tucson Community Food Bank, Literacy Connects, Congregation Chaverim, Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace or Arizona Public Media.