Monday, July 15, 2013

July 20 memorial service for Ross Miller

For all those who would like join us in honoring the memory of Ross Miller, we would love to have you join our memorial service.   It will be like no other memorial service you have ever attended. 
                                            -Mary ("Meg") O'Keeffe, Alison, Catherine, and Dinah Miller
                                              wife, daughters, and sister of Ross 

There will be music, poetry, light refreshments, and the opportunity to browse through the books he wrote and/or share in the experience of building a giant tetrahedron out of triangles and hexagons that snap together. You can also hear many funny and endearing stories about a much beloved man from his daughters, sister, wife, and family and friends.  You can see photos, hear music he loved, play with the plastic ducks that delighted him, and meet Frodo the (large plastic) penguin that he wrapped with holiday lights (and hear the story about him.)

When:  Saturday July 20 at 12:30 p.m.

Where: Artisphere Dome Theater  (near the Rosslyn Metro stop)

Address: 1101 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, Virginia 22209

Parking:  free on weekends in adjacent garage (enter garage via N. Kent Street entrance)

Overnight accommodations:  there are many nearby hotels.  Special rates are available at the Meridien, two blocks away.  See here for details.



Dinah Miller, Mary O'Keeffe, Ross Miller on 7/20/1979
Photo: I finally found a nice picture of Ross with his girls.
Alison, Ross, and Catherine Miller (1991)


Friday, June 28, 2013

Father's Day Reflections Part II

As usual, Union College graduation fell on Father's Day again this year.  What was not usual was the graduation speech, from a fiery and impassioned orator, Congressman John Lewis.  I have listened to many graduation speeches at many institutions of higher education over the years, but never have I heard one quite like this:

   

It poignantly reminded me that Ross's very last road trip with his father was to the March on Washington in late summer 1963, where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his resonant "I have a dream" speech.  John Lewis was the youngest of the six organizers and lead speakers that day, and the only one of the six who is still living today.

I remember that day back in 1963.  I watched the speeches on television with a wonderful African American woman who was taking care of my dying grandmother, after having taken care of her entire family and household for decades.  I remember we sat, dumbstruck with awe, in the living room while my grandmother napped peacefully nearby.  Neither of us had ever seen such a sight before, in all our born days.  We did not see many white folks in the crowd assembled on the Mall before the Lincoln Memorial, and I certainly do not remember seeing any white children in that crowd.  I lived only six miles away, potentially walking distance and certainly an easy city bus ride in those pre-Metro days.  Yet neither I nor any child I knew from school or my neighborhood--nor any adult I knew, for that matter--was there.  But somewhere in the crowd there was my future husband and the father of my children, a 9-year-old boy whose rabbi father had driven him a couple hundred miles from New Jersey to be part of that historic occasion, a celebration of solidarity and commitment to interfaith working together in harmony for truth and justice and what is good and true and right along with clergy of many other denominations.

Hearing Rep. Lewis' speech was bittersweet, because it was a deeply moving and powerful experience to listen to it, but it made me--once again--sad that I never got to meet Ross's father, who stands out in my mind as ahead of his time for reaching out in solidarity across all kinds of lines, religious as well as racial.  Fortunately, he wrote prolifically, so I feel I have gotten to know him a little through reading his sermons and especially his textbook, Our Religion and our Neighbors.  The textbook, which seems ahead of its time in treating other religions with respect and appreciation, grew out of his thesis in rabbinical school, and the early drafts of the textbook were tested out in the 1950s when the family was living in the South, in Greenville South Carolina and Memphis Tennessee, not easy places for a Jew to join with clergy of other denominations to work for civil rights, as Ross's father had done.

Perhaps that is why, decades later, one night when Ross was on a business trip, alone in a hotel with nothing to read but the Gideon's Bible, he found that the Sermon on the Mount resonated deeply with him.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. 
Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. 
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. 
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Father's Day reflections: part I

Alison, Ross, Catherine (1991)
Father's Day was especially painful and poignant this year.  It was our first one without Ross, but it was also the first year where we could truly feel--in our guts--how hard it must have been for a young Ross to lose his own father when he was 10 years old.

Two colleges on opposite ends of the country held graduation ceremonies on Father's Day, Stanford University and Union College.  Wonderful speeches at both of them inspired me to write these reflections, as I try to make sense of putting together my memories of Ross.

From the speech to Stanford economics graduates, this message resonated:

"The people in your life are more important than the stuff."

Too many economists don't seem to get this. (I will refrain from the temptation to name names, but sorely tempted to say snarkily, "I'm looking at you, [names redacted].") Such economists focus too much on "stuff" and not enough on people, on the magic and joy and beauty of human interactions.

But, as the Stanford speech notes, some economists *do* get this.  Ross got this.  He did have a fondness for "stuff", and certainly enjoyed his "adventures in retailing" in search of stuff, but the bottom line was clear: people trump stuff.  I think the experience of losing his own father at such a young age ensured that Ross--unlike many economists--would always understand that indeed, "The people in your life are more important than the stuff."

He loved spending time with us--laughing, talking, hugging, singing, having adventures together, reading aloud together, going on walks in the sunshine or rain together, just being together was magic. The memories are sad but wonderful, and it was wondrous having both girls here this weekend sharing those memories.

It is all too easy to get caught up in caring about "stuff" (and I will admit I am guilty of this myself at times) but people are indeed far more important.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Names, ancestors, mountains and asthma

Rose and Roy with Jerry
(undated/in front of what appears to be a ship)
Ross was named after his paternal grandmother (Jerry's mother), Rose Berkowitz.  After writing the first version of my previous post, I learned that Rose herself  had lived in Guatemala as a child and still had relatives there, which explains a lot about why Jerry was sent to school there.  (Thanks to Jerry's brother, Ross's Uncle Roy, for passing along that information to Dinah, who forwarded it to me.)  Ross never got the chance to meet his grandmother Rose, as she died before he was born. Indeed, as he explained to me, the Jewish tradition is not to name children after living relatives.  In any case, I am not sure if he knew his grandmother had grown up in Guatemala, though he did mention to me that he had relatives on his father's side who were involved in the coffee business in Guatemala.

The exact years Jerry was in school in Guatemala are unclear, and family members are not sure whether it was a regular school or a military school, but his brother Roy recalls that before going to Guatemala, Jerry had been very ill and hospitalized for months in New York for his asthma, and he was actually sent to Guatemala to improve his health--and apparently it worked, because Roy reports that Jerry was much better on his return.  Certainly, he recovered enough to be able to serve overseas during World War II.  He later revisited Guatemala with his bride during their honeymoon, so one can assume he had fond memories of his time there.

I did a bit of research on Guatemala and discovered that the climate is far more varied than I previously realized.  In the mountains in Guatemala, it is actually quite cool.  In any case, I imagine there was far less pollution in Guatemala than in Brooklyn, so Jerry's sojourn in Guatemala now makes a lot more sense.  This now makes a lot more sense to me--and in fact in the same period many people in New York City sent family members to the Adirondacks to recover from lung diseases such a tuberculosis, because of the clean, unpolluted fresh mountain air and sunshine.

My own Uncle Jimmy also suffered from asthma, and I had often wondered why my grandparents chose to send him to Fishburne Academy, a military boarding school in Virginia, unlike his siblings, who attended day schools at home in Washington, DC.

After getting the information from Roy and Dinah which helped me piece together the story, it now dawns on me that Uncle Jimmy probably went to Fishburne for exactly the same reasons as Ross's father Roy went to Guatemela, because Fishburne  was located in the mountains of Virginia, with cool, fresh, clean air during the entire school year.  (Washington DC classrooms were beastly hot and humid in September, May, and June.)

Also, at that time, I believe that many people still heated their homes with coal and the pollution levels in densely populated cities such as New York and Washington must have been terrible during the winter months.  I assume that rural mountainous areas would have had pristine fresh air.

Indeed, Paul Schaefer, the noted environmental advocate who built the home we live in and who also fought to preserve the beautiful old-growth forest adjacent to the natural burial preseve where Ross is buried a mile away from here, traced his own love of wilderness to a time in his childhood when he and his brothers accompanied his mother to the Adirondacks in the hopes that the mountain air and vistas would "refresh her spirits and restore her ailing health."

Ross had some asthma as well, though fortunately not as severe as his father's, perhaps in part because environmental regulations have greatly reduced air pollution levels.  I do remember that his asthma was worst during polluted times, and one of the reasons Ross loved living up here in Upstate New York since 1989 was that the air was far more pristine than anywhere else he had ever lived.   He and I both rejoiced in all the natural beauty of the mountains and the fresh clean air surrounding us.


[Note:  an early version of this post, which I created when I woke up in the middle of last night and couldn't sleep for a while, contained numerous errors.  I think I have now corrected most of them but appreciate hearing from anyone with more to share.  Thanks to Dinah and my mother for pointing them out.  I welcome any additional corrections, additions, and clarifications.]



Sunday, June 2, 2013

Early years

young Ross in Memphis
mid/late 1950s
(with Howdy-Doody ventriloquist doll)
Ross spent his early childhood in the south, first in Greenville, South Carolina, and then several years in Memphis in the mid 1950s, as his father, a social activist rabbi and World War II veteran, cared deeply about the civil rights movement, working collaboratively with clergy from other denominations in the Memphis Ministers Association to promote racial as well as religious understanding and harmony in a troubled time and place.  His father loved country music, which was easy to find in Memphis, but there is no record of any family encounters with Elvis, whose career was taking off while they were there.

He was an only child for the first eight years of his life until his sister arrived, so he got a lot of undivided attention from both parents.  Ross spent an unusually large amount of time with his father, thanks to the fact that many of a rabbi's duties were quite compatible with bringing a sweet young child along. He apparently charmed many members of his father's congregations, who were happy to help entertain him while his father attended to his duties.  His father had a study filled with books at their home, where he wrote several books of his own, including a widely used textbook on comparative religion. His mother's poor health for the first few years after his sister's birth likely meant that Ross spent even more time with his dad then.

Rabbi Milton Gerald (Jerry) Miller
Both parents, Jerry and Sara, had many adventures before Ross's birth.  Jerry was born in Brooklyn and loved the Dodgers.  He suffered from severe asthma and was hospitalized for several months.  Eventually his parents sent him away to attend school in Guatemala, where his mother had grown up, and where there were still relatives nearby, in order to improve his asthma.  At age 19, he entered the Army.  His military papers state that his occupation prior to enlisting was "male nurse" but I have found no record of his having attended nursing school.  Perhaps it was part of the curriculum in the military high school in Guatemala.  In any case, he spent the years from 1942 to 1945 in the Army as a medical lab technician.  It is not clear exactly where he served but his discharge papers indicate that he contracted yellow fever and cholera in 1943, so it was presumably not stateside.  After his discharge, he attended college on the GI bill, majoring in English, and then going on to rabbinical studies at a seminary in Cincinnati.  He served as a student rabbi in various places in the south and midwest, including Mississippi and Ohio.  After his ordination in 1953, he got his first pulpit as an assistant rabbi in Greenville, South Carolina.

Sara Stein Miller
Presumably it was during Jerry's time at the seminary when he met Sara Stein, since Cincinnati was her hometown, but she was certainly no homebody before their marriage in August 1951. With bachelor's and master's degrees in French and Spanish, she had gone into the foreign service in 1945. She worked as a clerk in at the US embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay for the following two years.  Stamps in her diplomatic passport show that during that time she roamed all over Central and South America--Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, and Panama.  Journals she kept indicate some hair-raising experiences on rickety buses on winding mountain roads with mudslides. After returning to the states, she worked as a multilingual clerk/translator for the United Nations in New York.

Ross grew up surrounded by his parents' intellectual curiosity about all things under the sun and beyond, with fond memories of travels in the family car (a Checker Marathon, which was just like one of those big old Checker taxicabs, but painted for use as a private car), listening to his father's favorite country music tunes as they traveled on daily errands around town for the temple or on cross-country trips to Sedona, Arizona and Cimarron, New Mexico, where he tagged along when his father served as summer camp chaplain.  The summer camps in the southwest must have been delightful for both of them, with its sunny, dry, and unpolluted air, since they both suffered from seasonal allergies and asthma, and Ross frequently recounted magical memories of those times together in the desert.  Father and son also took a very memorable trip to Washington DC together in August 1963 for the March on Washington, where they heard Rev. Martin Luther King deliver his famous "I have a dream" speech.

Clockwise from top left:
Rabbi Jerry Miller, Ross Miller,
Sara Stein Miller, Dinah Miler
(photo must have been taken shortly
before Jerry's death in 1964.)
Jerry shared his passion for baseball with Ross, who found fascination in the mathematical patterns in baseball statistics, as he figured out predicted batting averages and earned run averages for his favorite players based on alternative plausible scenarios.  As a result, he developed fluency and familiarity with such things as long division involving decimals well before such skills were taught in school.  He grew up curious about the patterns that seemed to be everywhere, whether in baseball statistics, musical compositions, or stock market fluctuations.

During his school years, the family lived in Elizabeth, NJ where Ross attended the local public schools and his father was the spiritual leader of Temple Beth-El.

Tragedy struck the young family on a snowy night in 1964 when Jerry was shoveling his driveway in order to go out to visit an ailing member of his congregation.  He was stricken by a heart attack at the age of 40, leaving behind his young family, a 40-year old widow still in fragile health herself, a toddler Dinah who never had the chance to get to know her dad, and a devastated ten year old Ross.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Obituary

Ross Miller 1954-2013
photo credit:  Mark Schmidt-UAlbany
Ross Miller died, unexpectedly but peacefully, in his sleep at his home in Niskayuna on May 20, 2013, leaving behind his wife of almost 34 years, Mary O'Keeffe, two daughters, Alison and Catherine Miller, a sister, Dr. Dinah Miller of Baltimore, and a large extended family, many friends, colleagues, students, and mentors. 

A pioneer in the fields of experimental economics, artificial intelligence, and computer-aided financial analysis, he worked in both industry and academia, winning awards for his innovative teaching and financial research inventions from Boston University, General Electric R&D, and the University at Albany. Since 2004, he has been Clinical Professor of Finance at UAlbany, where he taught students in the MBA and Financial Analyst Honors programs.  Fascinated by the inner workings of financial markets from an early age, he investigated financial frauds and deceptive practices and analyzed alternative market trading rules to avoid speculative bubbles and financial disasters.   

His book What Went Wrong at Enron spent months on the New York Times business paperback best seller list in 2002. Other books, Computer-Aided Financial Analysis and Paving Wall Street: Experimental Economics and the Quest for the Perfect Market received praise from both academics and industry practitioners, and have been translated into Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, and Korean. His research articles since 2005 have shined a light on excessive hidden fees charged by financial institutions. The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, CNBC, and the New York Times have highlighted his work, which has contributed to some industry reforms.   

Born January 6, 1954 in Greenville, South Carolina, Ross was the son of the late Rabbi Milton Gerald ("Jerry") and Sara Stein Miller. Following a few years in Greenville and in Memphis, Tennessee, where his father was active in the civil rights movement, the family moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey.  After graduating from Elizabeth public schools, he studied math, computer science, and economics at Caltech and Harvard, working with many distinguished scholars, especially  Charles Plott and Vernon Smith, his lifelong mentors and collaborators in his seminal undergraduate research project.  While at Harvard, he met his future wife, with whom he founded a consulting side business, Miller Risk Advisors, which they ran together.   

Throughout his 59 years, he was a lover of learning and a creative and tenacious problem solver with a wonderful sense of humor, filling the family home with joy and laughter.  His gift for cheerleading and inspiring others to believe in themselves and not to give up in the face of daunting challenges--whether his students, his wife, or their two homeschooled daughters--has left a remarkable legacy. 

Memorial Celebrations will be held in July.   Memorial contributions can be made to the Summer Program in Mathematical Problem Solving  or to the YWCA of Northeastern NY   More information will be shared at RossMillerMemorial.blogspot.com.

What is written above is the obituary that appeared in the print editions of the Albany Times Union and Daily Gazette on June 3.  I am trying to preserve and piece together as many memories as possible, by going through photos and documents left behind and reading some of his prolific writings, especially his occasional commentary series, which you can find at this link.

I am writing a series of essays with photos about his life.  There is a draft of a first one about his early years in this post.  There will be more on later years on this blog. I am grateful for anyone who would like share memories.  You can comment on this blog or  reach me to share privately at mathcircle@gmail.com. 


Ross was the love of my life.  We met in September 1975, at the beginning of graduate school, both of us age 21.  We married in July 1979.  We were not just husband and wife, but partners in virtually everything we did together.   I miss him more than words can say.