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Remembering Zell Miller

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March 27, 2018

Zell Miller — who rose from a hardscrabble life in the Georgia mountains to the halls of power in the state’s capitol — died Friday, March 23, 2018.

He was 86.

Georgia Born

Zell Bryan Miller was born February 24, 1932, in Young Harris.

His father died days later, and his mother raised him and his sister in a house she built herself.

From this rough beginning, Miller went on to a political career that took him to his state and national capitals, but always with ties back to his birthplace.

Miller graduated from Young Harris College, briefly attended Emory University, then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he attained the rank of sergeant.

Upon returning home from his military service, Miller attended the University of Georgia, where he received degrees in history that would lead to a teaching career at Young Harris College.

A Life of Service

After a few years teaching history and political science, Miller ran for his first public office.

He was elected Mayor of Young Harris in 1959.

After one term as mayor, Miller ran to represent his home region as a member of the Georgia State Senate. Over the next decade and a half, Miller was an active member of Georgia’s Democratic Party and served in numerous political posts within state government.

In 1974 he won election as Lieutenant Governor, a post in which he would serve an unequaled four terms before making his successful run for Governor in 1990.

In 1992, Miller supported the presidential candidacy of Bill Clinton and was as keynote speaker at that year’s Democratic National Convention.

After two terms as Governor, Miller returned home to teach, but he was quickly called back to public office.

Upon the sudden death of U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell in the summer of 2000, Governor Roy Barnes appointed Miller to temporarily fill the vacancy. That fall the citizens of Georgia elected him to complete the remainder of Coverdell’s term.

Although he never changed parties, Miller voted frequently with Republicans during his time in the Senate and was strongly supportive of President George W. Bush. In 2004, Miller was again a keynote speaker at a presidential convention, this time as a supporter of Bush’s re-election bid during the Republican National Convention.

Miller did not seek re-election when his Senate term expired. In 2005 he returned home to Young Harris, where he continued to share his views through teaching and writing.

Legacy

Zell Miller will be remembered as the Governor who brought the lottery to Georgia and, with it, the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarship Program and the Georgia Pre-K Program.

Earlier this year, HOPE passed the $10 billion mark in total financial awards, assisting more than 1.8 million students with post-secondary education in the quarter-century since the program’s inception.

Over the same time period, more than $5 billion has been used to enroll over 1.6 million Georgia children in pre-kindergarten programs.

Miller is survived by his wife of 64 years, Shirley Carver Miller; sons, Murphy Carver Miller and Matthew Stephen Miller; granddaughter, Asia Miller Bowles; grandsons, Justin Grady Miller, Andrew Stephen Miller, and Bryan William Miller; and eight great-grandchildren.

Honors

Shortly after news of Miller’s death Friday, Governor Nathan Deal ordered flags at state buildings to half-staff, where they will remain until sunset the day of Miller’s interment (Wednesday).

On Monday, a memorial service was held at Young Harris College.

On Tuesday, a funeral service was held at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta. Speakers included former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Following that service, Miller’s body was brought to lie in honor beneath the gold dome rotunda of the State Capitol Building, until Wednesday, March 28. This rare honor is accorded only to Georgians who have contributed significantly to the state.

Following a state funeral Wednesday at the capitol, Miller’s body will be returned to Young Harris, where the notable Georgian will be laid to rest, home in his native soil.


References and resources

Jon Suggs

About the Author

Jon Suggs is the Content Strategist for Digital Services Georgia. He writes on a variety of topics for Georgia.gov.

Jon is a Georgia native and former journalist who has worked in state government for more than a decade.