Mr. Miller passed away today. We all process grief a little differently. I think it will help me to write about how much he meant to me and the entire St. Mary’s community. Orion Miller had taught mathematics for a total of 45 years, that is amazing to me. If his health hadn’t failed him, I’m not sure he would have ever stopped teaching. He often mentioned the idea of retiring, but it was always a few years in the future. A few years would go by and retirement was still just a few years away. Teaching for him was much more than a job, he fed off the energy of the students and was passionate about students seeing the beauty of mathematics.
At the end of the last school year he took me aside and asked if I was interested in being the head of the math department at St. Mary’s. I was, but I wanted to know why he was thinking about stepping down. He said that it was his idea to step down, that he thought it would make for a better transition. For the last 15 years, Orion has had a very slow growing type of cancer. Maybe he knew that the cancer was starting to take a hold of him? He never complained about it. I didn’t know it until later that he was going through Chemo during the time that he was teaching this past fall. One thing I did know for sure, if I was going to be head of the math department…I would have big shoes to fill. Orion was a large hulk of a man, but his legacy is what looms even larger.
One of his mantras has stuck with me. For me, it encapsulates the kind of person that he is (was). It was my first year at St. Mary’s and I was talking to him about how great it was to teach at a place where there is time built into the schedule to help the girls who are struggling with mathematics. He said this to me, “I offer all the St. Mary’s girls free tutoring for life.” It didn’t matter if they were in college and needed help, he was always there for them. At Thanksgiving, he officially retired from St. Mary’s. It is a testament to the kind of person he is that some his AP Calculus girls came by his house each week for tutoring. That was his version of what retirement was supposed to look like. He never stopped helping students while he was alive. That was Heaven on earth for him.
I thought it might be appropriate to share a video that our high school math department made a few years ago. We sang a tribute to Mr. Miller to the tune of ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” Appropriately, we changed the words of the song to, “We really love Mr. Miller!”
That sentiment is still true. We all really love Mr. Miller and his sweet wife, Nancy. Orion had a way of being ornery while letting you know that he really cared. In the video, you may have noticed that I wore the same clothes he did, that was on purpose. It was a shock to him when I went off script and jumped on his lap. Today, I was a little shocked to get the news that he had passed away. I knew that his health was deteriorating, but I guess I always thought it would happen sometime in the future. I may not show it, but I already miss him. Still, his legacy lives on.