Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Mentor to Many, a Friend to All

Photo courtesy of the University of Maine
He emphasized substance over style.

Given the option of "getting it fast" or "getting it right," he'd urge the latter.

He stressed the importance of an "inverted pyramid" newswriting style and crafting a unique and tightly written lead paragraph that would "grab a reader by the lapels" and not let go.

He wielded a red editing pen like the most skilled of swordsmen, yet always included notes of encouragement.

He was fond of distributing notes signed simply at the bottom with the letters "A.R.M."

His name was Alan Robert Miller and he was a professor, a mentor and, most importantly, a friend.

He is the reason I - and scores of others - pursued writing careers and why my first love will always be nonfiction.

I was 18 when I took my first of several classes with Alan and he helped fan embers of potential into a fire that has burned ever since.

If I have one regret, it's that he taught a much younger me - one far less wiser and introspective. There was so much more I could have learned from him, so much more he could have shared.

Sadly, I missed the chance to learn these things firsthand. Alan died in December 2005 after a 13-year struggle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Undaunted, I recently dusted off skills he taught me and sent inquiries to my former Maine Campus peers, the college publication for which Alan served as faculty advisor for many years.

Several responded with their favorite recollections, but Bangor Daily News writer and friend John Holyoke offered the most tangible help.

Relying on the BDN's newspaper archive and colleague Charlie Campo, John responded hours later with valuable information.

A little digging of my own scored a tribute following the establishment of The Alan Miller Fund for Excellence in Communication and Journalism at UMaine.

What I learned about Alan's life was both educational and, at times, very inspiring.

I knew he had chronicled Maine’s daily and weekly newspapers in The History of Current Maine Newspapers, an effort he shared with our class on more than one occasion.

What I didn't know was that he was born in Liverpool, England and immigrated, at age 2, to the United States through Ellis Island with his mother and three sisters.

At age 18, after World War II, he served in the Army with the occupation forces in Japan and, after graduating from Boston University in 1952, became a journalist.

His first full-time job in the press was working as publisher and editor of the Amherst (MA) Journal Record, which he purchased after graduation.

He worked in Darmstadt, Germany from 1955 to 1964 on the staff of the European edition of the Stars and Stripes and was an overseas correspondent for the Springfield (MA) Union.

From 1964 to 1967, he was assistant to the Secretary of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he earned a master’s degree in education.

From 1967 to 1991 - the end of his tenure coinciding with my class' graduation - he taught at the University of Maine and served as chairman of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication for many years.

With my graduation and his retirement, I lost track of Professor Miller.

I heard through friends that he earned a master’s degree in library science before embarking on his next career as a reference librarian.

What I never knew was that he enjoyed painting in oils and water colors or that he and his wife Anne owned a century-old Virginia farmhouse that they frequented on weekends.

At his death, Alan was survived by his wife, one daughter, two sons, four grandsons, a great-grandson and three sisters.

His obituary did not specifically note, however, that he also was survived by hundreds of former student journalists who owe their career paths to his dedicated teaching and positive encouragement.

I am but one of these who is greatly appreciative that our paths crossed first by fate and then by intention.

Rest in peace, A.R.M. Your legacy is strong and lives on in the hearts of those who remember you in admiration and gratitude.

1 comment:

  1. John,

    Thanks for reminding us of the gifts he provided many of us. He was the model of a true "teacher." I hope I share some of his traits with my 6th grade students.

    UMaine '90