Tuesday, November 20, 2012


John Miller-A True Friend

                                                   James Hurst and John Miller
When I was asked by John’s family to speak today, I accepted the honour, with a good deal of trepidation. I knew I wanted to represent them well, but I also knew I had a daunting task ahead of me. My personal relationship goes back long before either of us was born.


John’s mother and father, Court and Theda, played serious bridge with my parents, Bill and Louise, for years before we ever saw the light of day. There was also the odd afternoon or evening when Bill and Court, Austin Walters, Harry Burns, Harry Trepanier, Russell Bateman and a host of their cronies shuffled the decks at the Belleville Club.


Along came the children. For the Millers; Peter and Bob, Pat, John and Janet. For the other families, similar broods. We played together, ate together, grew together. Mostly in the East Hill.


That was our stomping grounds. We ran the streets, sometimes after dark. We hid when the fire trucks came to extinguish the fires we had started by torching the piles of leaves on Queen Street. We ducked when we heard the bullets ricochet off the bricks at Sandy Sandercock’s garage, courtesy of the ingenuity of Ray Finkle. We skated through the winter at the tennis club, and rode our bikes forever. We drove Wally Marner and Bud Haines crazy at their corner stores.


The Millers spent a lot of the summer at Oak Lake. It was a great place to visit. John and Babe helped me conquer my fear of frogs and snakes. I marvelled at his skill in all kinds of boats. His sea fleet was just plain dangerous. The ice cream at Sarles’ Beach was delicious.


Time flew, and we were all at B. C. I., in various stages. John and I had to follow in the footsteps of older brothers and sisters. The boys had cut more than a few swaths. The elderly female teachers, Miss Dwyer included, watched us carefully.


Johnny tore up the football field with his prolific skill. He would crash the line with the football tucked under his arm, busting tackles along the way. He earned the nickname “Grinder” at that time. I was always amazed at his work on the high bar. Round and round he would go, doing one giant swing after another. I needed a chair to reach the bar, and Red Townsend’s size ten shoe to help me along. John could run like the wind, and won several awards on the track.


We hung out quite often at dances. Teen town, the Moose Lodge on Victoria Avenue, Queen Elizabeth School. The truth of the matter was that we used every opportunity we could find to do some serious snuggling with the ladies. Another great location was Nancy Vantassel’s basement, listening to the tunes from the late 50s and early 60s, with suitable companionship.


Another quick turn and we were both teachers, with some difficulty. John attended Peterborough Teachers’ College the year after I did. He was lucky enough to have a car. He spent the months from January to May on the streets of Peterborough, driving that thing in reverse. The transmission was shot. There were no forward gears. The principal of the school, Bill McLure, told us both separately, that he was glad to be rid of us at the end of the year.


John and I taught together at Sir John A. Macdonald School in the early Seventies. That was the only year we worked together. Rumour had it that the authorities decided we were better off in different locales.


Johnny loved his vehicles, even the ones that gave him grief. One bitterly cold morning he had trouble opening his car door at Bleecker Avenue. He reefed on it, and it came off the hinges. He left it on the lawn, and proceeded to class at Queen Victoria School.


He loved to fly, and moved on from glider planes to get his pilot licence at the Belleville Air Field. 


He had tours of duty at Susanna Moodie School, in Centre Hastings, and finally at Harry J. Clarke School. He was the principal most of the time, and served the communities well. In fact, he was revered as a principal. He cared deeply about the children, all the children under his care.


Johnny had gifts, many difficult to explain. He was a brilliant wood crafter. He tackled entire houses on several occasions, turning out silk purses from sow’s ears. Albert Street, William Street, the farm house on the hill west of Tweed. And finally his cozy retreat on George Street, a real masterpiece.


Music was of utmost importance to John Miller. He loved the classics, and much more. We experienced Leon Redbone at one of those Toronto festivals, and loved his stuff. Emmy Lou Harris was a favourite, as was Joe Cocker. John had a strong voice, and we sang in church choirs in our youth. He struggled at the piano, but learned a bar or two of “Fur Elise”. Lynn was responsible for that.


She taught piano at the school in Madoc. John was a confirmed bachelor at the time, perhaps thirty-five. By the time he was forty, he was the father of five children. Allison, Vickie, and Wendy were part of the family when he and Lynn were wed. Charlotte and Andrew followed along shortly thereafter.


Johnny’s world crashed that fateful evening when Lynn was killed at Moira Lake. We rallied around him, but it was plain to see that he was a different person. He moved to George Street, and planned to move on with the tides.


Such was not to be. Following his diagnosis, he fought to live, and he wanted to do so---for his kids, for his friends, for himself.


He was a prince of a guy. Farewell, my friend.



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