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
. 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. Oak
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, . 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. Queen Elizabeth
Another quick turn and we were both teachers, with some difficulty. John attended
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 Teachers’ College ,
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. Peterborough
John and I taught together at
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. Sir John A. Macdonald School
Johnny loved his vehicles, even the ones that gave him grief. One bitterly cold morning he had trouble opening his car door at
Avenue. He reefed on it, and it came off the
hinges. He left it on the lawn, and proceeded to class at . Queen Victoria
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
School, in Centre Hastings,
and finally at . 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. Harry
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
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
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”. Toronto was responsible for
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
killed at . We rallied around him, but it was
plain to see that he was a different person. He moved to Moira Lake 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.