Harry Richard Miller Jr. was born in Hershey, PA on February 16th, 1950, to Vivian Bachman Miller. His father Harry Miller Sr. had died in a car accident shortly before he was born. His childhood was marked by a close relationship with his grandmothers “Ma” Miller and Salome Bachman. Vivian married Nevin Bordlemay when Harry was 6 and he soon had brothers Adrian, Jan, and Darryl. Middle and High School years saw Harry playing the baritone in the band, the male lead in the school play, Senior Class President, and graduation with Honors, while forming a life-long close friendship with Greg Colvin (who served as his best man at both of his weddings). A catastrophic motorcycle accident at the age of 17 led to knee problems that persisted throughout the rest of his life. At 19, he became the first in his family to attend college: Drexel University in Philadelphia PA, where he met and married his first wife Elizabeth “Betsy” Griswold, whom he met on a blind date to a Rolling Stones concert. These years – the mid 1970s in West Philadelphia – were an artistic, social time for Harry, surprising for those who knew him in his later years. While he was studying engineering in the co-op program, he would also participate in street performance art/theater set up by his soon-to-be wife. They married in a backyard ceremony in 1972, and on their honeymoon, were stranded by hurricane Agnes at a golf course.
Harry graduated with his Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering in 1974, and as a result of the oil crisis could not find work as an engineer. He decided that in the absence of a job, he would keep going with school… he started graduate work and received his Master’s degree in Applied Mechanics in 1976. In October of 1977, he became a father for the first time. In those years, in his circle, many were afraid to bring children into a world that was scary with the threats of nuclear war and changing social norms. Nevertheless, Harry told his best friend Greg, despite all of those concerns, he just really wanted to be a father. Freida brought that joy to his life, and he was blessed again in 1980 by the birth of Audrey. That same year, he completed his doctoral thesis on Composite Materials, graduating with a Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering, and continued teaching at Drexel. His thesis attracted the attention of General Dynamics, and in 1982 he was offered a job in the F-16 program in Fort Worth.
He moved his young family cross country and soon proudly displayed a bumper sticker that read “I may not have been born in Texas but I got here as soon as I could.” In 1983, daughter Kimberley joined the family along with 2 cats, Noisy and Whitey, whose short and fraught tenure as family pets cemented the fact that Harry Miller did not like cats. For the remainder of his life, Harry was known as a dog person.
In 1986, Harry and Betsy divorced, with Betsy retaining primary custody. Harry’s work involved a lot of travel and often spending whole weeks in Los Angeles. He would fly home for his Wednesday night dinner visit with his girls (often for Chinese food or for their odd favorite, Taco Bueno), and then fly out again. In these years, Harry established his habit of working long and hard at a classified job. As children, his family had very little clue of what he actually did. He could have been a mob boss for all we knew. It turns out, he worked on projects with the F-16, A-12, F-22, the Joint Strike Fighter (the competition for which was explained in a Nova special on PBS) and other special projects. We’ve learned from some of his colleagues that he worked in both technical and management positions, and that he was appreciated for his intimidating personality that got stuff done and as a mentor to many who worked with him. He was keen to identify and promote talent within his area of responsibility, giving many an opportunity to show their abilities and enhance their careers. His calm-in-the-storm, his thoughtfulness, and his dry humor were appreciated both at home and at work.
In 1987, he reconnected with an old college friend, Carol Wickenheiser. In a world without cell phones or internet, Harry proceeded to woo Carol via handwritten letters and many long distance telephone calls. Several extended visits and many (short) love letters later, Harry won Carol’s heart. They were married in Silver Springs, PA in a small family ceremony in November 1988. This relationship proved to be one of the great comforts and joys in his life. They settled in to their home in River Oaks, TX, and in 1990 found themselves with not only custody of the 3 older girls but a new baby girl, Amanda, to help bond us all together. Harry playfully began to name them 1, 2, 3, 4 and then #5, Abigail was born in 1993. He loved the uniqueness and personalities of each one…they were ALL his favorites!
The following 20 years were marked by all the highs and lows of raising 5 daughters: attending dance recitals, games, swim meets, and graduations; several of his children’s stints as exchange students, and hosting his own exchange student, Judith Gruber from Germany; weathering and welcoming his children’s chosen relationships; becoming a grandparent several times over; and the passages in time marked by family dogs (the Deedee/Bonzo/Pudge years, the Asia/Brina years, and finally the unexpected Diamond years…who knew that a purse dog would ever win his heart?). Harry showed up for all of this with his characteristic stoicism and dry humor. He continued plugging away, traveling and working long hours at his “mystery” job to provide for his family. General Dynamics became Lockheed Martin. Eventually they opened their campus up to one family day a year, and we got some proof that he wasn’t actually a mob boss. In fact his office had a citrus tree in it! Certainly there were frustrations, but he was most motivated by the projects and by being a provider for his family. It has been gratifying to hear about that side of his life more since his retirement. As hard as he worked, he very rarely talked about it. We did know about his many overseas trips. On one notable occasion, he fell in the Heathrow airport, reinjuring his bad knee. The fallout from that drama, including the insights it gave us into our own and the British healthcare systems, were the stuff of family legend. We were so shocked when they discharged him, in significant pain, on the equivalent of Tylenol. Stiff upper lip indeed!
In later years, he and Carol are very active in service to Destination Imagination – a creative problem-solving competition for schools that many of his children participated in. He was the Greater Fort Worth Region’s Score Room Challenge Master since 2011 and served one year as the Texas Affiliate Challenge Master for Score Room. He brought many time saving and administrative innovations to the group, and tackled many challenges he encountered in that position. He continued to manage the Regional website, long after his own children had graduated and moved on. In retirement, it was a satisfying occupation. He was known in his family for being the king of the grill and smoker: family events almost always had something delicious that he’d marinated and cooked outside on the back porch with a glass of chardonnay in his hand. In later life, he developed a taste for vegetables that were not corn or potatoes—which was very surprising to everyone who had known him before the age of 60! He didn’t stretch as far as mushrooms or eggplant, but eating spinach in eggs would have been unthinkable to young Harry. Old dogs do learn new tricks! He had a completely dry sense of humor, a quirky love of the absurd, British humor, and science fiction stories, a deep and abiding practicality, a gruff manner, a cynical worldview, and a deep thoughtfulness that sometimes came out of nowhere. He was known to call his children with ideas about how to fix their stuff. He delighted in doing their taxes, if they would let him. He was a universal blood donor, and without our knowledge he donated 2 units of blood every 4 months for years and years – first through his work and then through the Carter Blood bank. They said he donated 55 times, over 6 gallons of double reds, just at the Carter Blood bank! He never told anyone, just went and did it – typical Harry Miller. He was an early adopter of technology and loved gadgets of every definition. We are still trying to figure out what are some of these things around the house. He, with his wife Carol, developed a passion for watching birds after his retirement in 2018. The birds (and squirrels) of River Oaks enjoy an extravagant buffet in strategically placed feeders all over the front and back yards.
He will be missed in a thousand ways: when we want to call someone to scheme with about woodworking or house maintenance dilemmas; when something his grandkids have done makes us laugh and we want to share it (nothing was as fun as making Dad laugh so hard he wheezed); when we’re looking into buying a new car or appliance; when it’s time to put the tinsel on the tree (Dad’s specialty); and when we sit on the front porch as a storm is rolling in.
He is survived by his wife of 32 years, Carol Miller; his daughters, Freida, Audrey, Kimberley, Amanda, and Abigail Miller; sons-in-law Matthew and Michael Clement and Brandon Kendhammer; grandchildren Tony, Nico, Althea, Olive, Leotine, Michael, Townes, and Cyrus; brothers Adrian, Jan, and Darryl Bordlemay; numerous nieces and nephews now with families of their own, and a tiny dog Diamond.
Lovingly written and shared with you from his daughters, and edited gently by Carol. We welcome any stories you may wish to share.