History of the Miller Academic Center

John Clifford Miller, Jr. Class of 1928

In the fall of 1924, Cliff Miller entered VMI as a skinny 16-year-old farm boy who stammered severely. He matriculated at this early age because his father, upon learning that his son ranked third in his class, encouraged him to skip his senior year at Brandy High School. (Young Clifford neglected to mention that there were only four students in his class at the one-room school.)

To prepare for his Rat year, Cliff attended VMI summer school at Rockbridge Baths, but he still faced many difficulties at the Institute. His speech impediment was severe enough to inhibit his ability to recite orally, and he endured the harassment and humiliation accorded in those days to cadets who couldn’t speak up quickly. Early in his Rat year, he resolved to change rooms because he had to focus more on his studies than his roommates apparently did.

His father’s sudden death when Cliff was a Second classman was a major blow. Despite these challenges, Cliff graduated with a degree in liberal arts and the pride of a First Class Private. The VMI system had supported and strengthened him and instilled in him a love for the Institute that lasted throughout his life.

His devotion to VMI actually was, at times, trying to his family. He interrupted his honeymoon at the Greenbriar Hotel in 1935 to drive the bride to Lexington to watch the Rat football team scrimmage! Luckily, Lizora supported him not only that day but every day in their 62 years together. Their devotion was mutual, and they were a dedicated team.

After graduation, Cliff began a career at the Miller Manufacturing Co., Inc., a wood products firm that his father had started. He progressed from salesman to chairman and ran the company until it was sold in 1980. His tenure at Miller Manufacturing was interrupted only twice, when he earned his masters of business administration degree at the Harvard Business School and when he served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

VMI called on Cliff for leadership many times, and he always rose to the challenge. He helped to fund the first athletic scholarships at the Institute; he was founder of the Sportsmen’s Club (now the Keydet Club); and he served as president of the Alumni Association and the Board of Visitors and as vice president of the Foundation. He helped many young men get into, and through, VMI, and he was always eager to help graduates secure productive employment.

In recognition of his many contributions to the welfare of the Institute and its alumni, in 1972 the Foundation presented him with its highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award. Cliff believed in fiscally responsible government and the free enterprise system, and he supported these principles vigorously on the local, state and national levels.

His other passions were his family, farms, the George C. Marshall Foundation (which he helped establish) and fox hunting. He threw himself into whatever he did, and his enthusiasm and determination were contagious. He was very moved when his wife and family initiated the J. Clifford Miller, Jr. Learning Enrichment Program at VMI in 1990, and he quickly began to support it himself.

It is the most appropriate that this fund, added by gifts in his memory, support the Miller Academic Center. When Cliff Miller died in 1998 at the age of 90, he had lived a full and productive life that included many accomplishments in many arenas. However, it is most telling of the man that the only recognition he wanted on his tombstone was: “President, VMI Board of Visitors, 1954 to 1956”