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Jon Charles Miller

Posted By Hall-Wynne On October 10, 2017 @ 10:13 am In Durham,Obituaries | 27 Comments

Jon Charles Miller died quietly of leukemia at his Durham home on Sunday. He was seventy-three. A scholar and a teacher, he was a man of books, language, poetry, and music. He was gentle, patient, and kind. His courtesy was old-fashioned and came to him easily.

Son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. Miller of Durham, Jon was born in Toledo, Iowa, while his father was in service overseas during World War II. Jon attended Durham public schools and graduated from Durham High School in 1961. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Davidson College. After college, he served as an officer in the U. S. Army in Korea and at the Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky. After leaving the service, he earned a doctoral degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Jon wanted nothing other than to be a teacher. It was his career for forty-six years. For more than ten years he taught in Durham schools. Later, he was part of the founding faculty at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics where he taught English for thirty-five years until his retirement in 2015. His annual reading of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas became a school tradition. His office door was always open. He delighted in his students’ success at school and in their lives afterward. He maintained a voluminous correspondence with former students until very nearly the day he died.

Jon possessed an unlimited curiosity and was an omnivorous reader; he loved books and readers. He worked for almost thirty years as a volunteer with the Friends of the Durham Library and twice was president of that organization. Jon loved back roads, small towns, and out-of-the-way places. He loved long road trips to Iowa and Maine, stopping at dusty bookshops and familiar dives and diners all along the way.

Jon literally married the girl next door. He was married to Patricia Wilson Miller for fifty-two years. Their marriage cemented the firm bond between the Wilson and Miller families that has continued for three generations.

Jon was pre-deceased by his daughter Amy and his sister Sue Harlow. He is survived by his wife Patricia, his brother Thomas R. Miller and wife Kimberly, his brother-in-law Walter G. Harlow, his sister-in-law Betty Dayton, his brother-in law Dr. Steve Wilson and wife Dianne, and also by nieces and nephews Doug Dayton, Chris Harlow, Robin Hulbert, William Harlow, Allison Wilson, and Charles Miller, and by a grand-niece Abbey Harlow and a grand-nephew Ryan Harlow.

Jon lived a life surrounded by a family who loved and encouraged him, by interesting and generous colleagues, by students who often challenged him to be better, and by friends whose company gave him great joy,

In lieu of flowers Jon’s wish was that contributions be made to the donor’s favorite charity.

Condolences for the family of “Jon Charles Miller”

Condolence from Jane McCullen Lovette on October 10th, 2017 11:20 am

Patricia I am sorry to you and your family. I was Durham High School, Class of 1973. I remember you. You were so sweet. Condolences.

Condolence from John Thacker on October 10th, 2017 3:55 pm

I am so sorry for your loss. I had the great privilege of being taught English by both Jon and Patricia. Those classes meant so much to me, as did your friendship. Dr. Miller was one of the kindest, warmest, most intelligent, generous, and courteous men I have ever met. I am eternally grateful for the time I spent with him, and would love to be even half the man he was. His unstinting efforts and kindnesses touched me and so many other students at NCSSM.

Condolence from Jody Sepich ’95 NCSSM on October 10th, 2017 5:06 pm

Dr. Miller is the reason I am drawn to Edgar Allen Poe and the reason I know how much Henry David Thoreau’s house in Walden cost. When I read Poe, he will forever be the narrator in my mind. My heart hurts with you…

Condolence from Hilda Crabtree on October 10th, 2017 5:26 pm

Pat you have my deepest sympathy. you and Jon both have been real troopers throughout his illness. May he rest in peace and may God give you comfort.

Condolence from Beverly and Eugene Murray NCSSM ’82 on October 10th, 2017 10:23 pm

Beverly and I, both NCSSM students of Dr. Miller, send our deepest condolences. Thank you for sharing Jon with us. We are forever better people because of his passion, dedication and inspiration to make us so. The sadness in our hearts today will pass, as it cannot hold back the joy given to us and the love we will always have for our dear teacher and friend. May God bless and comfort you.

Condolence from Stew on October 11th, 2017 1:31 pm

It was my honor to work with Dr. Miller from 2000 until his retirement. Jon was an excellent teacher who truly dedicated his life to his family/friends/students and colleagues. He could always put a smile on your face. I felt my heart twitch when I read of his passing. I’m a better person for having the opportunity to know and admire Jon. My you memories of this special man helping you during this time. We love you Jon Miller ! Thank you for being you!

Condolence from Matthew Hoffman NCSSM 96 on October 11th, 2017 2:47 pm

Dr. Miller carried himself at all times with the distinct gravity of respect. Respect for himself, the world around him and how we are all simultaneously insignificant but important. The way he taught literature made the impenetrable world of Chaucer accessible to mediocre minds such as myself. He helped instill within me a great appreciation for the written word and helped foster a humane sense of humor regarding the insignificant importance of us all. Thinking about what to say about such a great man simultaneously brings a smile and a tear to my eye. A tear because he’s gone, but a smile because a man like Dr. Miller can exist. Heaven is a better place now that Dr. Miller is there.

Condolence from Steve Gallup ’82 on October 11th, 2017 10:20 pm

Please accept my deepest sympathy for your loss. Jon Miller was a friend and a mentor to me at a time when he was sorely needed. He was such a giving person, with such wit and sincerity, that he is, and always will be, sorely missed.

Condolence from Tiffany Sherman NCSSM ’83 on October 11th, 2017 11:16 pm

My heart is heavy that Dr. Miller is no longer in this world. That students will no longer have the privilege of hearing his distinctive voice or learning to love Chaucer through his teachings. I always looked forward to visiting his office when I came back to Durham. To be greeted by his smile and talk of times gone by. He was always curious and interested in how life had changed.

Thank you for sharing Dr. Miller with us for so many years! I am a better person for knowing him.

Condolence from Julie Lamberth on October 12th, 2017 3:19 am

Dr. Miller was truly the best of us. It was he who challenged us to be better, yet never made us feel less than for not being perfect the first time. He was able to challenge students for whom most things had previously been easy, and to do so in a way that made them want to rise to meet that challenge rather than to just settle for good enough and be done with it, or to give up in defeat. He delighted in the joys, successes, and friendships of his students and I always knew when I saw him that I needed to prepare by bringing the updates on several of my classmates. To say he touched lives is to fall short of the truth by a mile. Dr. Miller was a man who changed, inspired, and transformed. And yet somehow he seemed to think that it was him who was the one who had been lucky, rather than all of us for knowing him. So many memories of him to treasure, and may I never lose his voice in my head.

Condolence from John Howie Jr. on October 12th, 2017 11:14 am

So very, very sorry to hear this. Jon was a guiding light for me in terms of musical taste and life in general when I was in my twenties and working at Poindexter Records on Ninth St. His kindness and generosity were a huge help to me during that confusing time. A truly wonderful person. He changed my life significantly, for the better. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

Condolence from Paula Bryant Bridges, Pres. HHS Class of 1980 on October 12th, 2017 3:14 pm

I am saddened to learn of the passing of my beloved English Seminar teacher, Mr. Miller. Mr. Miller taught me at Hillside High School. I recall the day we found out he was leaving Hillside to join the faculty of the NC School of Science and Math. We were happy for him, but it was a tremendous loss for the school. He always made us feel as though we could achieve anything and be anything that we wanted to be, regardless of the fact that we attended an inner city public school. I still recall the words he made us learn each week to expand our vocabulary, and I still love learning new words because of him. I graduated from Hillside in 1980, received a BSN from UNC in 1984, a JD from NCCU in 1993, and an MPH from UNC in 2010. I have no doubt that each one of these accomplishments were made in large part to the training I received under Mr. Miller. RIP Mr. Miller. You will be truly missed.

Condolence from Polly McKinney on October 12th, 2017 4:44 pm

Jon Miller was a benevolent and mentoring force in my life and in the lives of many others. It seemed best to pay tribute with a poem. In memoriam:

“To Miller”

In that great grey room
Where the world reconciles
What you dream
What you have,

You left me.

You stole my
Thank you,
Misplaced hope,

I know
That if you could see my brain,
One last time,
You would laugh and say
You did that,
Not me.

But I know
For a while anyway,
You replaced fear
And trepidation
And that embarrassing
Soft underbelly of adolescence

With joy
And abandon
And all those unimaginable imaginable
That got me here,
To this same grey room,

Hoping only
That maybe,
Some day again,
A fifty-three year old
Will find this room as well,

To reconcile
And reconstruct
All those things
I saved
From you.

Condolence from Dianne and Alan Stephenson on October 12th, 2017 9:27 pm

Pat, I was so sorry to learn of Jon’s passing. What a great man. I would love to get Jan and Art to come here and we all get together and catch up. Know you are in our thoughts and prayers.
Dianne and Alan Stephenson.

Condolence from Barbara Turner Harvey on October 12th, 2017 9:32 pm

As a young English teacher at Hillside High School, I had the privilege of meeting Jon Miller. His class was next to mine. I felt privileged to have him as a mentor. He gave me direction about the demands of classroom management. He made it comedy. Books and evaluations created fear. I felt heard and never
I, too, remember Jon’s voice. It boomed and it carried joy.
I was sad to see him move to NCSSM. However, I kept up with him through other colleagues and through
students there.
I am sad to see Jon’s obituary. I am grateful for my connection with him.
Blessings and peace to your family.
Barbara Turner Harvey
(I was Ms. Mason at Hillside High.)

Condolence from Elaine Martell on October 12th, 2017 10:06 pm

Ms. Miller- you were my favorite teacher and saved me at Durham High- class of ’74. My daughter had the joy of taking English at NCSSM with your husband. My heart goes out to you during this painful time.

Condolence from Tricia L. Townes on October 13th, 2017 8:17 am

Dr. Jon Miller was an inspiration – – a master teacher, a towering intellect, and a consummate friend and champion of his students. I already had a deep love of books when I met him as a junior high student at Rodgers-Herr, but his pedagogy and example strengthened that love and broadened it. I was blessed to have many great teachers during my academic career. He was always at the top of that esteemed roster. I am greatly saddened that he is no longer with us in this world, but the next world is all the richer to have him.

Condolence from Jessica Barnes (NCSSM 07) on October 13th, 2017 8:29 am

I had the great honor of being taught by Dr. Miller at NCSSM. He gave me my first F I had ever received on a paper but then he taught me how to be a better writer. My writing slowly improved but I will never forget the excitement in his eyes when he handed me my first A in his course. Dr. Miller truly wanted to change the way his students thought about literature and writing. He wanted us to think deeper and challenge the status quo. My life is forever changed because of Dr. Miller, as I’m sure hundreds of others have also stated. I can’t go through a Christmas season without thinking of his voice reading the Grinch. I can’t read poetry without a tiny Miller voice in my head saying “but what does the author really mean by that?” His office was one of my favorite spots to visit on campus because of the encouragement and stories you could always expect. During my first year at NCSSM, there were many times that homesickness and fear of failure made me consider quitting but one quick trip to Beall basement would have me redirected and determined to succeed. I’m truly sorry for your loss. Please know that there are hundreds of unicorns out here praying for your family during this time.

Condolence from Jerrilyn Woodard-Entrekin, NCSSM ‘86 on October 13th, 2017 5:04 pm

Although I was not fortunate enough to have Dr. Miller as one of my formal teachers at NCSSM, I was blessed to have him agree to be my Special Projects Week advisor & help me select excellent classic works to read & ponder.

He also graciously provided me with invaluable advice as I wrote MANY essays for college & scholarship applications, especially to Davidson College, an alma mater we ultimately shared. (I did graduate school at UNC also, so we shared that as well.).

Through the years, I -like all unicorns- searched him out for a chat when I was back in Durham for reunions & visits. Our entire alumni community is in mourning with you & also in celebration of the man & teacher & mentor & friend he was to us all. He set the bar high & we will forever be seeking to meet it as he so ably & consistently demonstrated for us.

Thank you for sharing him with us all. Deepest condolences to you, his family.

Condolence from Hao Zhu (NCSSM 95) on October 13th, 2017 5:37 pm

Jon Miller gave me my first C’s. His class crushed me that first year at NCSSM. I had to really think about what i was talking about in a deeper way, probably for the first time in an English class. His tests involved these cryptic words from our readings, and we would have to say something intelligent about these scary words, which obviously had a really important meaning if we could only remember where they were from. We had 4 hour essay tests that we did in our dorm rooms under an honor code. We were so exhausted that he let us fall asleep in class. He pushed and challenged us in such a positive way that i still carry those memories with me. But what i remember more was his wry smile, his generosity, his humor, that voice, and the way he could make you connect with literature so that it really meant something to our lives. I am so lucky to have known and learned from Dr. Miller, i am happy that he had such a meaningful life, but for now i am so sad that he’s not with us anymore.

Condolence from Gail Young Dula on October 14th, 2017 9:01 am


Please accept my condolences for your loss.

Gail Young Dula
DHS Class of ’61

Condolence from Stephen B. Burgess, NCSSM ’83 on October 14th, 2017 6:50 pm

Dr. Miller was my first teacher as I left home and entered a different world, and redefined the concept of “teacher” for me. He is central to everything I think of as NCSSM. My heart is heavy, and my condolences and prayers are with those he left behind in this world.

Condolence from B.C. Dixon on October 16th, 2017 3:29 pm

I am saddened to hear of the passing of Mr Miller. Mr Miller was a great teacher @ Hillside HS. He gave my class some good advice that I carry on to this day. He taught us to, “Always say thank you”. I just found out of his passing otherwise I would have attended the funeral to show my respects. Rest well Mr Miller. You’ve touched many.

Condolence from Penny Curran on October 19th, 2017 11:55 am

I will continue to keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

Condolence from John Armitage on October 25th, 2017 7:33 pm

Dr. Miller was the best teacher I ever had and I think of him often (and will continue to do so). My children know his name from my references to his transformative influence on my education and life’s trajectory. News of his death has left me teary-eyed, yet grateful for having had the pleasure and benefits of knowing him. He was an amazing role model: one who used his God-given gifts to make his community better. He was unfailingly kind and affirming when I interrupted his office hours, which was a character strength I marvel at in hindsight. He inspired a love of learning and literature. When he and and I both transitioned from Hillside High to NCSSM at the same time, his presence and guidance made that journey immeasurably easier for me.
I wish I had written this unalloyed praise for his eyes, but appreciate this opportunity to document some of my gratitude as a means to help process my grief. As he rightly taught, points are deducted for late writing assignments. God bless you at this difficult time and give you strength in your healing. I hope there is great solace knowing that so much of him lives on through his pupils. Thank you for sharing Dr. Miller with me and so many others.

Condolence from Christopher Armitage on October 26th, 2017 11:37 pm

Jon’s commitment to becoming a teacher was clear while he was working towards a PhD at UNC in Chapel Hill and a neighbor in the Rockwood area of Durham. I am grateful that my son John MD and my granddaughter Chelsea BSN both benefited from his teaching and his example of dedication to his profession.

Condolence from Michelle Williams NCSSM ’88 on October 30th, 2017 3:54 pm

I’m sorry to hear about your loss. Dr. Miller is the reason I became an English instructor. I had another career path in mind when I first entered NCSSM, but I remember Dr. Miller telling us one day in class that we might spend fifty years (or some large number like that) of our lives at whatever it was we were going to major in, so we had better pick something that we enjoyed. English was always my favorite subject and it was the course I did best in at NCSSM, so that statement is what changed my mind about the direction I would take. I’ll remember your family in my prayers.

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