Twenty years ago I was a wet-behind-the-ears newbie, just arrived at the office. I didn't know anybody; my naïveté concerning bureaucratic life was staggering. The fellow who sat next to me, Carl Miller, looked me over and decided to take me under his wing. He had been around for a decade already, so he knew where the minefields were and how to avoid them. Carl dragged me to meetings, introduced me to colleagues, and took me on the shuttle bus downtown where he led me into the best technical bookstores and open-stack research libraries around.

Carl was tall, quiet, somewhat shy --- a typical introverted physicist, careful and meticulous in his judgments. He also laughed a lot, especially at himself. He and his wife Teresa married late; they had their daughter Tessa Marie only a little before my eldest was born, even though Carl himself was 10 years older than me. We joked that he'd never be able to retire, what with college expenses hitting when he would turn 60.

Carl was something of a gadget man, the earliest in our group to get a videotape camera, back when they were rare, expensive, heavy hunks of machinery. He told us about his initial experience: he had gotten out of phase in toggling between "Record" and "Pause", so his first home video showed the grass as he walked into the yard ... and then cut off as soon as he pointed the camera at his little girl. The tape began again as soon as he thought he had stopped filming ... and ended just as he had the next scene set up and said, "Get ready!" to his subject. And so on, for the whole movie. We chuckled with him as he told the story.

Carl taught me what things are important and (the most important thing!) what not to fret about. He was a real "mentor", though back in 1981 nobody thought of assigning senior people to help newcomers get started, and certainly nobody told Carl to look after me. He just did the right thing. Carl was like that.

When our boss was transferred to another job, Carl moved up to lead the team. He didn't exactly jump at the opportunity; he preferred to do the work, rather than tell others to do it. But since there was nobody else around, he agreed to serve --- and did a fine job of protecting and promoting his people. At the next convenient re-organization Carl escaped from the ranks of management and went back to having fun. We didn't see each other often, over the years, but we stayed friends. I learned of his cancer in November.

Carl Miller died on 31 December 2001. He was 59 years old. On 30 November, in reply to an email I had sent him, he wrote:

I thank you and your family for your message of hope and concern. Except for a broken rib from coughing, I am doing fairly well now. Unfortunately my long term prognosis is poor. But, we are taking it one day at a time and have maintained a positive attitude regarding the future. I appreciate your offer of help, but family members have been just great and have taken care of my needs. I am hoping that the chemo treatments will allow me to get back to work within the next couple months. We will see. Hope that all is well with you and your family. Take care and thanks again for your thoughts.


That was Carl J. Miller ... serene, optimistic, gracious, and above all absolutely honest. I tried to express my gratitude to Carl in August 1999 (see ThanksAndAcknowledgements4) but I owed him more thanks than I could possibly convey then. I still do ....

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicProfiles - 2002-01-07

(correlates: DesertTest, ScottReiss, Help, ...)