Developer Leonard Miller wasn’t afraid of elbow grease.
As a co-developer of Pasadena Homes, considered the prime builder in Pembroke Pines in the 1970s, Miller’s company ultimately put 10,000 houses, apartments and condos in Broward over 40 years since Pasadena’s founding in 1959.
But an early customer, troubled by a brown stain in his new white tub, wanted the tub replaced. Miller zipped over to the house, rolled up his sleeves, borrowed a can of cleanser and scrubbed the stain away.
“Our forte is good value and great customer service,” Miller said in a 1990 Miami Herald profile about the company he formed with one-time brother-in-law, the late Adolph “Ady” Berger.
Miller died on Feb. 21 at the age of 84.
The idea of Miller up to his elbows in scrubbing bubbles doesn’t surprise grandson Eric Miller who says he is following his granddad in the family business by developing apartments in the North Miami area.
“He set a great example for us about always being honest and always putting, in his business life, the customer first,” Miller, 25, said.
A year after that profile, Miller, a past president of the Florida Home Builders Association in 1983, would be inducted into the Florida Home Builders Association’s Housing Hall of Fame. Fellow South Broward competitors at the time said of Miller: “He has impeccable character. In a business where you get some come-and-go-guys, Mr. Miller stands out as one of the true good guys in the business.”
Miller’s children, Robert Miller and Corinne Cott, also followed their dad into his business because his values inspired them.
“I see it a lot in business life where business owners try to … get out of doing things that are their responsibility. He was never like that,” Robert Miller said. “Customers called him 20 years later and would remember some ridiculous thing in the house and he told our customer service to go take care of it. The house was long out of warranty but that was his way.”
“His philosophy was that everybody deserves to make a living so he was always fair,” Cott added. “His moral compass and integrity not only passed on to us but the beautiful part of it is that it is passed on to our children, too.”
Miller, born in Burlington, Vt., was not born into means. “I learned what it means to work for a living,” he said in the 1990 profile.
Cott jokes that the other Leonard Miller, developer with rival firm Lennar, and a family friend, would often be confused with her dad. Her father often jokingly “referred to himself as the poor Leonard Miller,” she said, laughing.
Miller, a sergeant in the Army during the Korean War, worked for Allied Stores as a furniture buyer. His business partner Ady Berger, and future brother-in-law, was an engineer. “We pooled our talents to become home builders and we’re a very good team,” he said.
Miller would marry his college sweetheart, Berger’s sister Bernice, whom he met at the University of Vermont where he earned a bachelors of science degree in commerce and economics. The couple would have two children. He later married real estate broker, the late Carolyn Rosen, and “Lucky Lenny” was blessed with “two great loves” in his life, his daughter said, along with his stephchildren Joanne Rosen and Laurie Riemer.
The Miller-Berger team moved to South Florida from New York in 1958 and divvied up duties. Berger was best during the first half of construction, until the house was framed, and then Miller would take over. West Hollywood caught their eye first because Florida’s Turnpike was still new and the nearby Pembroke Pines area was just crying for development, Miller believed. After retiring, Miller served as mayor of Indian Creek Village in the late 1990s.
But the dapper man nicknamed “Lucky Lenny” was not all business. His children remember that first fancy car Miller drove, a 1964 Riviera. He would pump the accelerator to the beat of the music, “and we’d go back and forth…all of us cracking up,” Cott read at Miller’s service Tuesday. “We loved Sunday mornings, jumping into bed with you while you read us the comics. Those were great times.”
In addition to his children and stepchildren, Miller is survived by nine grandchildren. Services were held. The family requests donations to the Greater Miami Jewish Federation or the Carolyn and Leonard Miller Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont.