Dr. Richard “Dick” Neal Miller fell asleep peacefully in Goodland, Kansas on Friday, January 14th, 2022 after a long and bravely-fought battle with cancer. He was 87 years old.
Born in Denver, Colorado on May 14, 1934, he was the second child of Frank Russell and Norma Alene (Neal) Miller. During the economic hardship years of the Great Depression, his father moved the family to his grandfather’s homestead near Karval, Colorado to farm and raise cattle. He spoke fondly of his time on the Miller family homestead, where he developed his affinity for hard work, his love of the land and its history, and his farm boy pluck and tenacity. As he grew up in Karval, Dick attended Pride of the Prairie School in a class of four (with three other girls). He recalled later that he didn’t realize that “girls weren’t necessarily supposed to get better grades than boys” until high school, which he attended in Rocky Ford, Colorado, in the class of 1952.
After high school, he pursued the study of engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, but paused his coursework to enlist in the U.S. Air Force; during his last weeks in Boulder, he met his future wife Shirley Smith, when they both volunteered to wash dishes after a Christmas party at the First Christian Church they attended. They were engaged shortly after his basic training was completed.
He married Shirley on January 1st, 1957 at the Methodist church in Goodland, Kansas mere days before he was deployed to Casablanca, Morocco. They waited apart for 18 months before she was permitted to join him in Morocco. One of his officers suggested that Dick’s integrity, attention to detail, passion for his work, and charismatic good humor made him an optimal candidate for Officer Candidate School, where he was accepted into class 1960-B at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
Upon completion, he graduated with distinction as a 2nd Lieutenant, and was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi to attend U.S. Air Force instructor training, where he discovered his love of teaching. He also traveled to Omaha to finish his Bachelor of Military Science degree at the University of Nebraska, then was assigned to Keesler AFB, Biloxi, to teach where he had previously been a student. Dick and Shirley’s first and second children, David and LeAnn, were born during these years.
His military career took him to Alabama and then Ohio, where he earned his Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, then to Goose Bay Air Force Base in Labrador, Canada, and finally to Colorado Springs to serve on the faculty of the U.S. Air Force Academy, where their third child Melinda was born.
In 1976, Dick retired from the Air Force as a Major after 20 years of service. From there, he moved his family to Buffalo, New York to complete a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo; then on to Orlando, Florida, to teach at the University of Central Florida, first as a professor, and then as the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for the College of Engineering. This position proved to be the culmination of his lifelong passion and talent for teaching. As a professor and dean, he loved working with students and guiding them to become their best selves.
He and Shirley lived in Orlando throughout the rest of his career and into retirement in 1999. There, he tremendously enjoyed life in close proximity to all of his married children and his grandchildren, whose daily lives were blessed by his gentle leadership. He could always be counted on for love and support, assistance with math homework, lessons in his cowboy wisdom, and an old country song now and again in his rich and happy baritone.
Starting in 2005, he began spending more time in Goodland, working with family to restore the house Shirley was born in, and enjoying the peaceful rhythm of High Plains life once more. In September of 2014 he contracted West Nile Virus, which left his body greatly weakened, but his spirit still unbroken. His family and friends will remember his cheer, grace, and contentment during this time as he continually worked to get stronger, even as time worked against him. He enjoyed visits with his family, celebrating holidays, going on walks, keeping up with the latest Apple gadgets, and giving his beloved great-grandchildren wheelchair rides.
In November of 2018, he was diagnosed with cancer. No one who knew him was surprised when he outlived his initial prognosis by two years with an excellent quality of life, enjoying priceless time with family and friends, even surviving a global pandemic with his usual good cheer and quiet strength. During these years, he often reflected back on his full life to mention how he saw the Lord’s hand lovingly guide him throughout its winding course.
Dick is survived by his wife Shirley (Smith) Miller; sister Nancy Rudolph; son David Miller (Janice DeBord), daughters LeAnn Burchfield (Jim) and Melinda Lien (David); grandchildren David Burchfield (Rachael Snedaker), Amy Burchfield Merkley (Ky), David Russell Miller (Jamie Berg), Chris Burchfield (Nicole Beaty), Ben Miller (Rachel Orth), and Peter Miller; and great-grandchildren Elizabeth and James Burchfield, and one more great-granddaughter eagerly anticipated at the time of his passing.
His family and friends will always remember the unflinching courage he held in the face of discomfort or loss, his tremendously generous investment in his family, his merry good cheer that always kept a song in his heart, and his unfailing faith that held his vision straight ahead through all the storms of life.