Attorney Graham Miller accomplished many things in his 40-year legal career in Miami. Among them, he drew up the incorporation papers that helped start the Greater Miami Opera more than 75 years ago.
Miller, who died at 97 on Feb. 26, was also a published songwriter, playwright, poet, licensed pilot, a voracious reader and a computer geek. If there was new technology, his daughters say, he had to be the first on the block to have. Given that he lived in Miami for 95 of his years, moving from DeLand when he was 2, this meant the first AC, TV and computer.
He lived to tell a joke and judges wouldn’t allow court to recess until Miller, a Miami High, Duke University and University of Miami Law School graduate, told one of his jokes.
In his 90s, his Coral Gables home was filled with his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and their friends. “He was adorable, had all these creative qualities. Who else would have a life like this toward the end of a life? We should do a sitcom on my Dad,” daughter Jane Kerestes said.
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Miller had a saying for every occasion. “He could quote Scripture or Shakespeare better than anyone I ever knew,” daughter Martha “Marty” Raiss said.
“Graham was a person that every age could communicate with,” said Nita Norman, his companion of nearly 10 years. “When you would go to something and see a table or a group of people that were laughing and having fun and you would think, ‘Gee, I’d like to be at that table,’ that was always Graham’s table.”
Miller practiced law out of Miami’s old Alfred I. DuPont Building until retiring in 1981. He gave back extensively to the community. He earned the Salvation Army’s highest civilian honor, the Order of Distinguished Service. He was vice consul to Bolivia, past president of the Miami Rotary Club, a member of Coral Gables Rotary, supported Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, the Coral Gables Music Club and was secretary of the Greater Miami Opera for 35 years.
During World War II, he enlisted with the Navy but sinus problems kept him out of battle. Instead, he was tasked to train officers in Miami Beach on, well, anything his superiors suggested. With training manual in hand, Miller taught courses like Defenses in Chemical Warfare and Prevention of Venereal Diseases. “I never prevented any,” he wrote in his memoirs. “This was a much livelier class but the movie [about VD] was terrible.”
Miller was also asked to give the officers a taste of warfare so that they would be prepared for real battle. So, with his Piper Cub aircraft loaded with small brown bags filled with flour, Miller flew north from the old Roney Plaza, found his soldier targets below on the beach and unleashed his “bombs.” “A perfect kill right at his feet … flour wafting up, covering his khakis,” Miller wrote. The target turned out to be the none-too-pleased general. “And that is how I bombed Americans in WWII.”
Miller married his wife Martha in 1947 and were together until she died in 2005. One of his stories contains some of his advice: “Never let your wife volunteer you for anything.”
Miller, a founding member of Riviera Country Club in Coral Gables, was enlisted by his wife to be the Santa for the club’s Christmas event. Their daughters were 5 and 3 at the time. What Miller did not know was that the organizing women had hired an elephant, complete with mahout (an elephant trainer), and Santa Miller would be riding this “reindeer.”
Miller met the huge elephant and the scrawny mahout who spoke Indian-accented English. This gave Miller some confidence as he figured if the trainer and elephant came all the way from India together perhaps they understood each other, “since I certainly did not.”
The plan was perfect but for one thing. No one figured the children, seeing Santa atop an elephant, would scream in fear, causing the elephant to panic and take off running — with Miller atop. “Until you are on a panicked elephant you don’t know what speed is — and the swaying — and the holding on for dear life,” Miller wrote in his memoir. As he cried, “Ho-ho-ho, I’ll be right back,” to the startled children, somehow the mahout managed to stop the beast at the bottom of the club’s front ramp.
“Now you understand. Tell your wife never to volunteer you for anything.”
Miller is also survived by four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren and his sister Shirley Holmes. A celebration of life will be at 4 p.m. April 26 at Riviera Country Club, 1155 Blue Rd. Memorial donations to the Miami Salvation Army.