Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., the venerable Maryland lawmaker who was the longest-serving state Senate president in American history, died peacefully Friday at his home after battling prostate cancer, his family announced. He was 78.
Miller, whose beloved state Senate bears his name on its Annapolis office building, presided over the chamber for 33 years before passing the gavel to current Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) in October 2019.
“It is impossible to think of the Maryland Senate and not think of Mike — not just because of his historical longevity — but because each member of the Senate has his or her own Mike story,” Ferguson said in a statement. “I expect we’ll hear many of them in the days and weeks ahead, and I hope the public will listen and get a glimpse of the impact Mike made.”
Miller represented the 27th District, which includes portions of Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert counties, in the Senate before announcing his resignation on Dec. 23, citing health reasons. During a virtual briefing with reporters, he said he hoped he would be remembered for “hard work, love the [Chesapeake] Bay, love of education.”
“As a result, positive legislation flowed to the [Senate] floor and across the House and with the governor’s signature,” he said. “I study history. I grew up before television. My aunts and uncles for Christmas and birthdays would give me books and I would read and study. I’m able to find alternatives to move forward.”
Michael Jackson, a former delegate who was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to succeed Miller in the Senate and was sworn in Wednesday, said his “heart hangs heavy” upon word of Miller’s death.
“I [lost] a teammate and mentor who trusted me to succeed him,” he tweeted. “Today, most importantly, the Millers loss a husband, father, uncle, cousin, grandfather, confidant. #TrueHonorableServant.”
Hogan ordered state flags to fly at half-staff Friday in honor of Miller.
Even after his diagnosis of prostate cancer in July 2018 and a round of chemotherapy later that year, Miller continued to come to Annapolis and stand among the rostrum in the Senate chamber before going public with his condition in January 2019.
Besides a picture of Miller in the Senate chamber and his name on the office building, his Senate colleagues created the title of “President Emeritus” and voted to bestow it upon Miller.
His alma mater, the University of Maryland at College Park, in June named its main administration building in his honor.
A devout Catholic with moderate views, Miller challenged his Democratic colleagues on approving same-sex marriage and the death penalty. However, he did lead the effort to legalize gambling in the state with a casino resort at National Harbor near the Virginia and D.C. borders.
Miller was also credited with bringing funding to Prince George’s for a new $543 million, 11-story hospital scheduled to open this year in Largo.
He was also known for his sense of humor, was on display the day after the 2019 death of House Speaker Michael Busch, when he told a story from 1987 of Busch, then a first-year delegate, having a bit of a mishap during an inaugural parade around the State House for Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
“He participated in the parade. He slips on the ice and falls. His constituents are looking at him [in] an ambulance being carted off,” Miller recalled.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) praised Miller for providing advice when she became speaker in 2019.
“He was as kind and generous as he was powerful: a combination that leads to a once-in-a-generation leader and statesman who we can all emulate,” Jones said in a statement.
Miller, who grew up in Prince George’s County, graduated from Surrattsville High School in Clinton and received his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Maryland.
Miller was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1970 and then to the Senate in 1974. He served as the state Senate president from 1987 until 2019.
Although he resided in Calvert County, some will always remember him as a Prince Georgian.
“Despite his serious health challenges, he forged ahead, serving the citizens of the state of Maryland and Prince George’s County,” Calvin Hawkins II, chair of the county council, said in a statement. “Sen. Miller is a native son, who leaves an impactful legacy of leadership and service.”
Miller is survived by his wife, Patti, five children and 15 grandchildren.