Miller ’70: “Because VMI Prepared Me”
When he graduated, David L. Miller ’70 knew that VMI had prepared him for success. Its structure and smaller classes provided a productive learning environment. The Institute’s economics curriculum helped him pursue a career in business. His experiences as a cadet officer, a member of the Honor Court, and a staff member of The Cadet and The Bomb familiarized him with the demands of leadership. However, he didn’t realize the full value of his VMI education until he entered the University of Virginia’s rigorous Darden School of Business.
“It was exceptional preparation,” he declared. The time-management skills and work habits he learned as a cadet helped him deal with a curriculum in which students were required to attend weekday classes from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., participate in individual and group study in the afternoon and evening, and submit a paper or take a four-hour exam each Saturday morning. The academic preparation he received as a VMI economics major provided “a good grounding” and “made the initial jump to graduate school much easier.” The leadership opportunities he had at VMI “showed me how to communicate with others, to explain what needed to be done, to set the right example. It all helped me compete at Darden.”
Not only did the VMI experience prepare him for the demands of the Darden School, it also contributed to his career progression in health care management. Over four decades, Miller rose from being an administrator at St. Luke’s Hospital in Richmond to the president and chief operating officer of Community Health Systems, a leading national hospital system. There was more, according to Miller. “As a cadet, you learn to use teamwork to surmount difficult challenges and, in business, that lesson allowed me to help colleagues with challenges. You also learn the necessity of perseverance to achieve goals – be they for you or an organization. Most important is the grounding in integrity that living with honor code gives you.”
He added, “At VMI, you learn to strike the proper work-life balance and to deliberately step back from career obligations and attend to such things as religion, family and leisure.”
An experience during the early part of his 1st Class year symbolized something else Miller gained at VMI: A sense of service. In August 1969, Hurricane Camille triggered massive floods in many parts of the country, including western Virginia. Cadets assisted neighboring communities with their cleanup efforts – hard and dirty work that often involved handling dead farm animals and dangerous debris. “It impressed me that VMI was committed to helping people in need.” It is this commitment to service that prompted Miller and his wife, Helen, to become major benefactors of three children’s homes and two seminaries. It also prompted Miller to become a consistent donor to VMI.
Giving to the Institute for Miller started soon after he graduated. Initially, he did so because he had “an appreciation of what VMI allowed me to do, and I wanted to help others have the same experience I did.” Over time, Miller developed an even deeper understanding of the Institute’s value and came to place even more importance on supporting it. “Just look at the caliber of individuals it graduates,” he said. “They include great military leaders, like George C. Marshall ’901, John Jumper ’66 and General Peay ’62, as well as the three generals from my class and great business leaders, like John deButts ’36, who rose to be chairman of the largest corporation in the world (AT&T) and Gil Minor ’63. They include wonderful humanitarians, like Paul Hebert ’68, who has led relief efforts all over the world, and Jonathan Daniels ’61, as well as political leaders, to include Virginia’s current governor, Ralph Northam ’81.”
But it doesn’t stop there for Miller. “I have long had an unwavering belief in the citizen-soldier ideal, and during my time on the VMI Board of Visitors, that belief has been strengthened because our nation sorely needs the type of leaders VMI continues to graduate.”
His most recent gift established the Colonel Alexander H. Morrison 1939 Institute Professorship in Economics and Business. Asked why he chose to honor Morrison, a longtime professor and head of the department of economics, Miller described the man’s qualities. “It was how he carried himself. He was confident but never arrogant. He was patient. He pushed every cadet to do his best in everything, not just academics. He was determined that the department and its cadets would be the best they could be. Above all, he was genuinely concerned about his cadets.”
It was a concern that lasted far beyond graduation, as Miller recounted. “Whenever I visited him, usually around reunions, he was happy to see me and always interested to know what I was doing. And it wasn’t just me. He was proud of all of ‘his boys’ and delighted in their accomplishments.”
By establishing this professorship, Miller is paying respect to his professor. “Establishing chairs and professorships helps the Institute attract and retain great faculty who are dedicated to its mission and its cadets,” he stated. “It also shows our faculty that alumni value their contributions. Finally, it helps cadets get a better education. Colonel Morrison would have appreciated all of that, I’m sure.”
Miller continued by saying, supporting the Department of Economics and Business in this manner will further heighten the department’s academic reputation and, in turn, the Institute’s. “VMI always has been known nationally for its engineering programs. Over the past few years, its applied mathematics department has gained an excellent national reputation and grown to more than 40 majors. I want the Department of Economics and Business to develop the same type of reputation, and this professorship contributes to that effort.”
Miller hopes his gift has other effects. “I want cadets to notice that they are supported by those who have come before them. That would, I hope, plant in them the seed of a commitment to do the same for those who will follow them.”
He also hopes his gift will encourage all alumni to do something in support of the Institute’s faculty.