Community members, family and friends will gather Wednesday evening to say goodbye to one of Manatee County's former distinguished citizens.
Robert Miller of Palmetto died Thursday evening of natural causes, leaving behind a legacy of community involvement and service and a family full of memories. He was 87.
"He always had the right stories, the right jokes at the right time," Robert Miller Jr. said.
This is how his father is remembered.
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Those who knew Mr. Miller best, knew him for his 50 years of service for what is today the North River Fire District. He joined the Palmetto Volunteer Fire Department and along with three fellow volunteers helped start the first fire rescue squad on the Florida west coast.
"The most memorable for me, was the firefighting, because for 50 years it was an integral part of my family's life," the younger Miller said.
Many times he got to go along with his father on calls.
Mr. Miller fought fires until 1998 and then served for four years on North River Firefighter Pension Board before leaving the department altogether.
In 2003, he was named Manatee County's Distinguished Citizen of the Year.
Born in Richmond, Ind., Mr. Miller enlisted in the Unites States Army following his high school graduation in 1943. He volunteered for the Army Air Corps, and it was during his travels that he met his future wife, Edna Grove.
In 1952 they moved to Palmetto. When he was not fighting fires, Mr. Miller worked as a teacher with Manatee County public schools for eight years. He then traveled from school to school serving as a speech and audio therapist for many schools. He also did speech and hearing therapy for adults, such as stroke victims.
Later Mr. Miller went on to work for the former state of Florida Department of Employment Services as a counselor.
"He got a lot of kids into the government programs. He also put a lot of adults into jobs," Miller Jr. said.
Mr. Miller's passion was for the Hernando de Soto Historical Society.
"For many, many years before he joined he was helping them run the children's parade," Miller Jr. said.
Both Mr. Miller and his wife were very active in the community and his passion for De Soto history inspired many trips to Barcarotta, Spain, where a statue was erected in his wife's honor.
"He and my mother were ambassadors to the world," Miller Jr. said. "They liked to travel and spreading joy all around."
Besides his eldest son, Miller is survived by his daughter, Kathleen Tonski of Monticello, Fla., and sons and Grove Thomas 53; five grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and sister Diane Putt of Indianapolis.
Visitation will be 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Kicliter Funeral Home, 517 Eighth Ave. W., Palmetto. Services will be at 1 p.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church in Palmetto.