Former longtime state Rep. John E. Miller died Wednesday night at his home in Melbourne at age 85.
The cause of death was not immediately known Thursday.
Legislators who served alongside Miller said he will be remembered most for his knowledge about state finances, as well as his lighthearted manner that turned serious when it was time to work.
The former colleagues described Miller as a leader, teacher, devout Christian and asset to the state, who gained the respect of everybody with whom he worked.
“He cared about people, and he really wanted to help people and help the state,” said John Paul Capps, a former state representative and senator who served alongside Miller for 36 years. “John was a very, very influential person. You don’t see people like that come along all that often, and when they do, they make a profound difference.”
Miller, a Democrat, represented Izard County and portions of Independence and Sharp counties in the Arkansas General Assembly for 20 terms, starting in 1959. He retired in 1998.
During his 40 years in the state Legislature, Miller was a member of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, the House Insurance and Commerce Committee, the Joint Committee on Advanced Communications and Information Technology, and the Joint Committee on Energy. He served for a period as the House chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, and he was the speaker of the House in the 1979-80 session.
Capps said that though Miller was a well-rounded legislator, state finances were his true expertise.
“I can remember him standing there on the floor of the House presenting budget bills,” Capps said. “It was just a routine thing that people got bored with, like driving down an interstate with no curves in the road. But John would stand up there for hours and explain every budget and answer every question.”
Miller graduated from Arkansas State University at Jonesboro in 1949 with a degree in chemistry. In November of that year, he married Ruby Robertson. They had three children, David Miller, Martha Miller and Naomi Roper; eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Before running for state office, Miller served four years as the Izard County clerk. According to his obituary, Miller also worked at Reynolds Metal Co. in Saline County. He then returned to Melbourne to open an insurance agency, title abstract business and real-estate brokerage before entering public service.
According to an article published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 1993, one of Miller’s accomplishments was championing the construction of a new state office building, known as Big Mac II, on the Capitol grounds. It was noted in the article that the process by which Miller had the budget bills passed to help finance Big Mac II was “Miller personified”: “He fought for what he believed, refused to quit, and came out on top.”
Later in his tenure, Miller willingly shared his institutional knowledge with anyone who wanted to learn, former legislators said.
“Here I was, a freshman, 24 years old. I was new, and he could have looked right past me,” said former state Rep. Shane Broadway, who served his first term in the House as Miller was serving his last. “He was very knowledgeable, and he was a great teacher on the House and how it functioned. That’s what I’ll always remember him for.”
Gov. Mike Beebe said Miller acted as his legislative mentor when he started his tenure in the state Senate in the early 1980s.
“John Miller was one of the men who taught me how Arkansas’s budget worked when I arrived in the Senate,” Beebe said in an emailed statement. “He was a force to be reckoned with, a man who commanded respect throughout state government. But most importantly, even with all the power and influence that his 40 years in the House afforded him, John always remained a consummate gentleman and a good friend.”