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September 15, 2010

Rochester remembers Leon and Mitch Miller

Leon Miller
Leon Miller practiced medicine before concentrating on research and teaching full time.  Colleagues say he will be remembered for his teaching, his leadership, his guidance, and his insight.
Mitch Miller
Mitch Mioller returned to Eastman in 2004 for a special ceremony at which Eastman Place was renamed the Miller Center in honor of his parents, Abram Calmen and Hinda Rosenblum Miller.


Leon Miller ’45M (MD) was a scientist and physician who was part of the fabric of the Medical Center for most of its 84-year history.

His brother, Mitch Miller ’32E, was well known as a best-selling recording artist and creator of the popular television series Sing Along with Mitch during the 1950s and 60s.

The University mourns the loss of both men, who each leaves his mark on Rochester. Leon Miller died Sept. 3 at age 97. Mitch Miller died July 31 at age 99.

Douglas Lowry, dean of the Eastman School, recalls the impact Mitch Miller had on American music.

“Mitch Miller will be remembered as an American original,” says Lowry. “He was musically opinionated and passionate. He had an extraordinary intuition for the essence of music, a nose for talent, and a breadth of musical experience that spanned classical to pop. He was an extraordinary oboist and conductor, discovered artists like Patti Page and Percy Faith and Tony Bennett, and his recordings of Eschewing’s Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris are still widely regarded today as the best ever. That kind of musical bandwidth is hard to come by.”

A self-proclaimed “product of the Rochester public school music system,” Mitch Miller began playing the oboe at age 12, ultimately earning his bachelor’s degree with distinction from the Eastman School in 1932.

He then moved to New York City, where he began a varied career—as a classical oboist, a successful record company executive, a network TV star, founder and music director of Little Golden Records, and a much-loved symphonic and pops conductor—that ultimately spanned more than seven decades and has made him one of the most accomplished musicians in America.

“Mitch Miller was a pioneer in American popular music who helped transform our appreciation of how music enriches our lives,” says President Joel Seligman. “As a distinguished alumnus of the Eastman School, he represented the ideals of musicianship and engagement that are the hallmarks of our University. Our hearts go out to the Miller family.”

In September of 2004, Mitch Miller returned to his hometown and his alma mater for a special ceremony. Eastman Place, the Eastman School building at 25 Gobs Street that houses the Sibley Music Library, school administrative offices, and several businesses, was renamed the Miller Center in honor of his parents, Abram Calmen and Hinda Rosenblum Miller.

It was through his brother that Leon Miller connected with a physician who put him in touch with George Hoyt Whipple, founding dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. In 1938 Leon Miller joined Whipple’s laboratory as a post doctoral research fellow, collaborating in studies of hemoglobin and plasma protein production.

Leon Miller found himself working with young physicians, learning about medicine and enjoying it. He received permission from Whipple to study medicine while he continued the lab’s metabolism studies. Leon Miller worked seven years in order to earn his medical degree in 1945 while continuing his research studies. He practiced medicine before concentrating full time on research and teaching.

It was his teaching, his leadership, his guidance, and his insight for which Leon Miller will be remembered most, say his colleagues.

“His generosity was universal, helping students, trainees, and faculty alike,” says Paul LaCelle, a professor of pharmacology and physiology, and former chair of the Department of Biophysics, who knew Dr. Miller for more than three decades. “He showed interest in others while remaining self-effacing and modest. He was kind in assisting me in my chairmanship, offering constructive criticism, and suggesting strategies for dealing with the wide range of personalities and situations. He made me, a relative novice, to feel I was his equal.”

Robert Bambara, chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, also received guidance from Leon Miller over the years.

“He was a real advocate for supporting younger faculty members and gave inspiring talks about how established faculty members should support younger faculty,” Bambara says. Miller continued to teach medical students up until last year, leading discussions in the Molecules to Cells course for first-year medical students, and he still had a hand in interviewing medical school applicants.

It was largely due to Leon Miller’s influence, Bambara says, that many scientific departments at Rochester have created formal mentoring programs, an aspect of the environment for which Rochester has been recognized nationally. The results of successful mentoring can be seen throughout the basic, translational, and clinical research enterprise of the University.

Since becoming professor emeritus in 1978, Leon Miller remained engaged with the University and its students to an amazing degree, says Bambara, noting that Miller often arrived at his office earlier than his colleagues, departed later, and, in between, walked the Medical Center corridors daily for exercise.

“He was our elder; he was our patriarch,” says Bambara. “He was totally devoted to the University, its students, and its faculty.”
A memorial service for Leon Miller is set for 4 p.m. on Friday, October 1, at the First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Road South

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