PALMETTO -- Dan Miller has earned numerous accomplishments and accolades during his public life including:
congressman for 10 years;
Harvard Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government; and
educator at the U.S. Naval Academy, University of Kansas and Oxford University in England, to name just a few.
Yet the singular honor Miller received Thursday before family, friends and admirers at the Manatee County Fairgrounds might mean the most of all to him and his loved ones.
The amiable 71-year-old grandfather was named 2014 Distinguished Citizen of Manatee County.
"It's a great feeling. This is Manatee County. This is home," Miller said. "Over the years you get recognized for many different things, but this is special."
During his acceptance remarks, Miller recalled that fateful day -- Sept. 11, 2001 -- when he flew with President George W. Bush from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport to Louisiana's Barksdale Air Force Base as the White House came to grips with the horrific events unfolding in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
"I vividly remember looking out at the Gulf of Mexico, flying over Mobile, Ala., say
ing, 'How can this kid from Bradenton be on Air Force One?'" Miller said. "When you represent 600,000 people -- Sarasota, Charlotte and parts of Hillsborough -- and I'm the only one in Congress from little ol' Manatee, it makes you think."
The announcement by emcee Vernon DeSear was greeted with widespread applause at the luncheon in the fair's spacious entertainment tent.
The audience included several past Distinguished Citizen recipients, including Rev. W. E. "Bud" Gillett (2007), O.M. "Buster" Griffith (2008), Rodney Potter (2010), Betty Glassburn (2012) and Ken Burton Sr. (2013).
"Dan is probably the one person who could've been recognized many years before," said Gillett, a beloved retired Baptist pastor. "I'm glad his time to be chosen has come at last. There's not a finer choice."
Bob Sweat echoed those sentiments.
"He deserves it," said the retired elections supervisor. "He's worked hard for Manatee County and paid his dues -- and on top of that he's a great guy."
Charlie Hackney agreed.
When he ran for county property appraiser in 1992, he campaigned with Miller, who was running for Congress.
"I rode his coattails and they were nice coattails to ride on," Hackney said. "He's a terrific guy, and he's been such a part of this county and everything about it."
Miller has served on numerous boards and chaired the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and Manatee Memorial Hospital's board of governors and was president of the Manatee Symphony Guild.
He's also a partner in family owned Miller Enterprises.
Today, Miller is also teaching at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus and did so Thursday morning. When he left campus for the luncheon, he didn't know what was up.
"Then I got here, saw these familiar faces and I thought, 'Why would they be here?' I had no idea," Miller said.
One of those faces belonged to nephew, Hugh Miller, who beamed with pride and wished his father could've been there, too.
Don Miller, the family patriarch and the honoree's big brother, passed in July 2012.
"Dad would be very proud today sitting at the table with us," Hugh Miller said.
"He was one of Dan's biggest cheerleaders and was always there to support him. He's looking down now enjoying this."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix