Robert Day Miller dies at age 81

PC(USA) pastor, advocate and administrator challenged systems of discrimination

May 12, 2016

Robert Day Miller.

Robert Day Miller. —Photo provided


The Rev. Robert Day Miller (1934-2016) passed away peacefully on May 3, 2016. A teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Miller served in various capacities in the church both pre- and post-reunion, for nearly 50 years.

Born October 23, 1934, in Washington, D.C., to Francis Pickens and Helen Hill Miller, he spent his early years on the family’s farm in Fairfax, Virginia, where he developed an appreciation for the beauty of nature. Miller received his undergraduate degree from Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and his Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, with additional studies in Edinburgh, Scotland, at New College of Edinburgh University. In 1957, he married the former Nancy Adrian Rhoads of Leesburg, Virginia.

Details of his anti-discrimination work were published in his obituary, which said, “Robert’s courage, integrity and spiritual leadership in fighting for freedom and fairness grew to become legendary in the communities where he labored. For this work, beginning in the late 1950s, he chose the segregated Deep South, where every day—with his quiet intellect, keen insight, and shrewd wit and diplomacy—he challenged ingrained systems of discrimination to change. As the decades rolled past, Robert’s foresight and earnest endeavors in this work were time after time proven prophetic, as society came to embrace and codify the values that he and his coworkers embodied wherever they found themselves.”

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) from 1996-2008 and current Professor of World Christianity and Ecumenical Studies at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, said Miller “was a model of Christian leadership in the PC(USA).” Noting Miller’s breadth of ministry experiences, Kirkpatrick said, “Robert was a great leader in the PC(USA), and a man of great courage, compassion and wisdom.”

Miller served as pastor in churches and communities in Tuskegee, Alabama; St. Petersburg, Florida; Montgomery, Alabama; and Louisville, Kentucky. From 1977-1990, he was Director of National Mission (PCUS), and of Educational and Congregational Ministries (PCUSA), at the Presbyterian Church headquarters in Atlanta and Louisville respectively. His final professional post, from 1993-1999, was as Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina in Elizabethtown, North Carolina. In 2005, he and Nancy retired permanently to their mountain home in Lake Lure, North Carolina.

“When I arrived at the Presbyterian Center in the summer of 1988, Robert Miller was one of the calmest, most welcoming people I met,” said the Rev. Jerry Van Marter, retired editor of Presbyterian News Service and a long-time friend of Miller's. “As Director of the Education and Congregational Nurture Unit, he presided over a sprawling range of responsibilities staff members with charm and grace. I always tried to emulate his leadership style but no one could do it like Robert. The Presbyterian Church has lost a true gentleman and I will miss him.”

Robert is survived by his wife, Nancy; children, John (Krista), Margaret (Roger Growe), Helen (Eric Tarleton) and Francis (Celinda); brother, Andrew Pickens Miller and wife Penny Farthing; granddaughters, Lillian, Isla, and Avalon; grandsons, Adrian, Steven, Elliot, and Ian; step-grandchildren, Daniel and Sara; and seven nieces and nephews. 

A memorial service for Miller will be held Saturday June 4 at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina.

  1. We only recently got to know Robert by sitting near he and Nancy in church. We will miss his welcoming smile and strong handshake. God's blessings to Nancy and family.

    by Jim and Cathy Froehlich

    May 16, 2016

  2. When the Presbyterian headquarters were in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to volunteer and, for a short time, serve an interim in Robert's division. I will never forget the service which was held in the chapel during the time of the murder of many young men in Atlanta. Candles were lit and prayers offered. It was an emotional experience. In a moment of silence, a strong male voice in the back of the room began singing, "Sometimes I feel discouraged..." We all joined in on "There is a balm in Gilead..." It was a perfect conclusion to the service. Robert always knew the right thing to say or do--or sing. I am grateful to have known him.

    by Cleda Locey

    May 14, 2016

  3. I and Grace Kim have been acquainted with Robert and Nancy since Atlanta era of the Southern Presbyterian church. We moved to Louisville to serve the reunited church together. Robert was a truely humble survant of the Christ Jesus and he demonstrated hospitality and caring for Korean immigrant Presbyterian church leaders who were in marginality of the mainstream . We could become a part of the large church by his authentic leadership with encouraging and open-minded heart toward the strangers. Robert was truely a saint . The Lord blessed us through Robert. We Korean American Presbyterian community owe a lot to Robert and his legacy will last in the Presbyterian Church(USA).

    by Sun Bai Kim

    May 13, 2016

  4. I got to know Robert when I served on the board of Westminster-John Knox Press and he was pastor of Second Presbyterian in Louisville. It was a joy to worship there when I went to meetings at the Presbyterian Center and as much a joy to socialize with Robert and Nancy after our meetings. I mourn his loss and celebrate his life.

    by Judy Austin

    May 12, 2016

  5. Robert was a remarkable man, a true Renaissance man. I loved him. Whereas I had valued him immensely as a colleague when I was president of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education and he worked at the headquarters for the church, it has been in recent years that he and Nancy, along with Peggy and I have shared our love for our local church in Asheville. Seeing them on Sundays, joining them for occasional meals, and just watching his twinkling eyes register something worthy of note, was a privilege and gift. No more appropriate words can be said to anyone than the familiar " Well done, good and faithful servant." Robert Miller - well done!!!! Heath K. Rada, Moderator PCUSA 221st General Assembly

    by Heath K. Rada

    May 12, 2016