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The Tom Miller Story (1962)

Gordon Wilkison

Sound | 1962

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  •  The next half hour has been set aside in the public interest as a tribute to former mayor Tom Miller.  Here is your narrator, Paul Bolton.   
  •  Tonight we shall strive to tell you the story of a love affair between a man and a city.  
  •  The city is our city, Austin, Texas, the capital of our state, a friendly city. 
  •  The man is a man about whom Austin will never talk in the past tense.  Tom Miller, who lovingly molded so much of his hometown. 
  •  From 1933 to 1961, except for one period of six years, he served as Austin's mayor, without pay in money, but with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.  
  •  What is the yardstick for measuring the value of a man?  Not the amount of money he has managed to bank, nor the number of acres he owns. Every man has his personal yardstick. 
  •  One certainly would be the opinion held of him by those with whom he worked.  We have asked all of those who are still here to give us their measure of Tom Miller.   
  •  First, here is Austin's   present mayor, Lester Palmer. 
  •  Austin, as well as the nation, is saddened by the death of Tom Miller, mayor of Austin. 
  •  It was my pleasant privilege to serve with Mayor Tom for some six years.    During this time of office, Austin made m any major changes.  
  •  The auditorium was built, the airport terminal was constructed,  low water dam and new house unit, and many many important additions to the city. 
  •  The mayor was a big man. He had a big heart.  
  •  He thought of Austin, he loved Austin, regardless of race, creed or color, he was always concerned about the interest of the people of Austin. 
  •  We'll certainly miss the mayor. He has been, his advice in all during the time I was on the council certainly helped in my tenure of office this short time that I have been on.  
  •  Miller's successor after his first tenure as mayor was Taylor Glass. 
  •  If we've ever had a citizen that has played such an important part in the building of a town as Tom Miller has. He's left his mark on every corner and it was indeed a pleasure to have the opportunity to serve with a man like Tom Miller.  
  •   I succeeded Tom Miller as mayor, and I know what a job it is for any man to hold this office. 
  •  And the former mayor who often looked to Tom Miller for advice was Mayor Bill Drake.  
  •  Austin will really miss Mayor Tom Miller. The service he gave our city was incomparable to the amount of time and the thought he gave.  
  •  You know, I was on, was the mayor, two years after he left, and he has helped me in many many ways.  
  •  I did not have the pleasure of serving with him, but I helped him on a number of committees and any time he asked me, I was more than glad to help in any way I could. 
  •  Three men served on the city council with Mayor Miller during his first tenure. First, Congressman Homer Thornberry. 
  •  My family and I have received with sadness the news about Mayor Tom Miller. He and I were associated over the years, not only as council members of the city of Austin, but as coworkers of Austin.  
  •  Tom Miller was a great American. He was a friend to all who knew him, and Austin itself will serve as a memorial to him.  
  •  Next, Councilman Oswald Wolf. 
  •  I'm very sorry to hear about the death of Mayor Miller. The day I believe it is 29 years since TomMiller started serving his first term as Mayor of Austin.  
  •  It was my privilege to serve with him as councilman for a period of 14 years. I do not know of anyone that loved Austin more and worked harder for Austin than Mayor Miller. 
  •  Mayor Miller was a  friend of Austin and its citizens. Mayor Miller was my friend. We will all miss him. May god bless him. 
  •  One of his oldest friends, Gene Bartholomew.  
  •  I have known Tom Miller for a period in excess of 45 years. More intimately since 1933.  And then the October of 1941 I became closely associated with him as a member of the city council.  
  •  He was then Mayor of the city of Austin. I have know him most favorably as one of the finest gentleman I have ever known in my life, and I don't know of anyone that had the heart, had the city of Austin's interest at heart any more than he Tom Miller had.  
  •  I praise him to the height of his glory or anyone's glory for that matter, and I think the civic-minded interest he has demonstrated to us behooves us to attempt to follow in his civic-minded footsteps.  
  •  In his last tenure as mayor, the men who served with Tom Miller included Wesley Pearson. 
  •  Among the greatest honors bestowed upon me since I have lived in Austin was the opportunity to serve four years on the city council under Mayor Tom Miller's leadership.  
  •  No person could have been more sincere in having the full support of his council to make decisions in the best interest of all the people of Austin.  
  •  He would spend many hours in any public hearing in order that all sides of the question might be heard and a fair decision rendered.  
  •  I will always be able to travel any direction in Austin and be reminded to appreciate Mayor Miller and his fearless leadership and enthusiasm to build a better Austin.  
  •  Councilman Ben White. 
  •  I am very much grieved at the passing of my dearest friend Mayor Miller whom I have known for the past 45 years.  
  •  Our friendship began many years ago on a business relation and has continued  through the years in both civil and city endeavors. All of the persons closely associated with Mayor Miller are aware of how much this wonderful man gave of himself to his first love, the city of Austin.  
  •  May god bless and comfort his dear family and let them be assured that the mark he has made will never be forgotten.  
  •  Mrs. Emma Long 
  •  A great man has parted with us with the passing of Tom Miller, but he won't be forgotten.  
  •  I remember one thing he often used to say quite often that was the past makes the present and the present makes the future. And that will be as it is with Tom Miller.  
  •  You can't turn any place in Austin that you don't see Tom Miller some place.  
  •  The beautiful auditorium, the airport, fun swimming pools, playgrounds, the flowers that grow – it's all a part of Tom Miller and his spirit.  
  •  He loved Austin above anything I do believe. And I loved him, I worked with him, I know that he loved people, he loved his city, and we will always think of him when with see these monuments because they are monuments to him, his energy, his courage. 
  •  Austin is a great place because of Tom Miller and it will continue to be. The future is part of Tom Miller.  
  •  Edgar Perry the Third. 
  •  During the time that I served on the city council with Mayor Miller I was very much impressed with his understanding of the problems of public service.  
  •  He had a saying of Benjamin Franklin which he kept under the glass on his desk.  It read: we must not in the course of public life expect immediate grateful acknowledgement of our service, but let us persevere through abuse and even injury.  
  •  The eternal satisfaction of a good conscience is always present and time will do us justice in the minds of the people, even those at present the most prejudiced against us. 
  •  Time will do him justice. And now we can gratefully acknowledge his service to the city of Austin and to all of us. 
  •  Hub Bechtol. 
  •  All of us that served with Mayor Tom Miller will always have many fond memories and recollections of our experiences in serving on the city council with him.  
  •  When first went on I had a great sense of inadequacy going into an enterprise such as this, looking at a multimillion dollar organization such as the city is, and Mayor Miller will always be long remembered by me by taken me under his wing and showing me more or less the ropes of serving on the city council.  
  •  I've always had a great deal of respect for him. Of course we always will, he meant a tremendous amount for our community. 
  •  He thought of Austin first always in anything he did, it was Austin first. I don't believe we could find another man in the history of Austin that would have this sense of responsibility for his community.  
  •  This is where the Tom Miller story starts, at the corner of Second and Congress. The Miller home has long since given way to changing times.  
  •  Miller was the son of Thomas McCall Miller and Anne Gillum Miller.  He was born in what he affectionately called the old Tenth Ward, September 21, 1893.  
  •  His schoolhouse still stands, Palm School. His mother, descended from Revolutionary War heroes, was the first cousin of the school's first parent-teacher association.  
  •  His mother along with one of those early teachers influenced his life.  
  •  Mrs. Florence Ralston Brooke loved Shakespeare and she instilled that love in Tom. He was a member of the Adelphian Society of Palm School which presented in 1906, Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and for the remainder of his life Tom Miller quoted Shakespeare on every opportunity.  
  •  As a young man, he thought of becoming an actor or a lawyer. Because of this flair for the spoken word, but the death of his father in 1916 ended any such ambitions.  
  •  Young Miller went into the produce and cotton business successfully.  
  •  In 1918 he was married to Nelly Ann Miller. They have two children, Tom junior, and Joy Miller Sellner; several grandchildren, including 18 year old Tom, to carry on the family name. 
  •  The real story of Tom Miller begins in 1933 when he was elected mayor of Austin.  A canny trader, he turned this facility to trading for the city of Austin. 
  •  In those days the scourge of Austin was the Colorado River. Every few years it raised its banks, flooded great sections of south and east Austin.  
  •  Tom saw his first flood as a boy of seven in 1900 from the old wooden bridge which once spanned the river at Congress. This was the year that the dam broke, the old dam that is. 
  •  The floods came again in 1935 and Miller was mayor. In that year damage was assessed at more than 12 million dollars. 
  •  Tom Miller joined the other workers on the banks of the Colorado, attempting to stem the tide with levees. They worked for seven days and seven nights with scarcely no rest. 
  •  When the crests has passed, negotiations were begun with the Colorado River authority to rebuild and strengthen the Austin dam. The last bucket of concrete was poured February 16 th, 1940. 
  •  Even before that final bucket went in, the citizens of Austin, through their chamber of commerce, had acknowledged the driving force behind the contract by naming it the Tom Miller Dam. 
  •  Even in those days specifically back in 1938, Miller was advocating a second low-water dam and in his second tenure in office he saw that dream realized, along with construction of a huge power plant. 
  •  He often speculated on whether he would live to see an atomic power plant furnishing power for his city. 
  •  During those years, the men who knew Tom Miller best were the reporters. Here is American Statesman Editor Charles E. Greene. 
  •  It was the day after he was elected to the city council. He came into my office that day and we had a very pleasant conversation.  
  •  The newspaper had not supported Mr. Miller at that time, nor had we in any way harmed him. We felt that we were under obligation to the present administration.  
  •  But I remember telling him during the campaign the facts of our position and I also remember telling him that he would be elected to the city council and be the next mayor.  
  •  And I told him if he wanted to, I would be the best friend that  he ever had in the newspaper business.  So that is why he came up to my office the morning after the election.  
  •  He sat down in a chair beside me and he said "Mr. Green, you told me that, and now I've come to see you make good." And that was the beginning of a very, to me, marvelous friendship.  
  •  I came to love Tom Miller. I came to do everything that I could to lighten his load, and I think that his death and has been a tragic thing.  
  •  I think that Austin will remember him. I think he will go down in history as probably one of the greatest men that this town ever produced.  
  •  The veteran reporter Bill Weeg. 
  •  Tom Miller was, his death was a personal loss as well as a community loss to the city of Austin.  
  •  One cannot serve as I did, at Tom Miller's feet, so to speak, for 16 years at the city hall quarter without feeling that way about him.  
  •  Tom Miller gave very liberally of his talent, his money, his time, for the betterment of Austin, and lived to see a lot of his planning and his dream realized.  
  •  Tom Miller came in seven years after Austin moved from the old world form of government so to speak into the city manager plan of government and it is Tom  Miller who followed Mayor McFadden and his administration.  
  •  He was the man who built the final chapter to make Austin great as it is and emerge from a small city to the metropolitan city it is today. 
  •  This is Ray Widdell. 
  •  Tom Miller was certainly as rough and as tough as they come in a political fight. He could hold his own with the best of em and when his city was at stake or he felt the welfare of his nation was at stake. 
  •  But I never saw Tom Miller unkind to anyone. Frankly, I don't think he ever was.  
  •  He had a wonderful sense of history and current events, he related almost everything that went on to some form of current events or to history.  
  •  I think he even, even tied in a local zoning fight to some form of current events or related it back to history in some way.  
  •  Tom Miller was certainly a wonderful teacher. I believe that by sitting and talking with him for three hours that anyone could learn more history, more about civics and economics, than they could in a concentrated course in college.  
  •  Certainly that was true of city government. I think we taught me 90% of what I know about city government and I'm sure he did it in only a very short time. 
  •  Reporter Bill Woods 
  •  When Tom Miller ran for the council again in 1955, I had been on the city hall beat only about a month at the time.  
  •  First thing I remember about him was that he made only one promise, he had no platform or anything like that, he said I will promise only I'll work hard.  
  •  And that's what he did. He workedat  that city job like it was a way of life to him.  
  •  Some people that serve on the city board or city council take time from their own personal business, their private businesses to give to the city, but Tom Miller used to take the time that he gave to his personal business and the time that he really devoted to the city council and work that was full time.  
  •  Of course at a time like this, one recalls the strengths of a man such as Tom Miller, the strength of his character that he had, he had a few weaknesses.  
  •  One of em, his greatest weakness, was for children. Children has a big place in his heart and that had a lot to do I think with his feelings toward the recreation and expanding the city and the acquisition of park and recreation property.  
  •  But uh, the city of Austin was something in which he felt deep personal pride and deep personal satisfaction, it was a personal way of life. 
  •  Well like Bill Woods told you Tom Miller did have a soft spot for children. 
  •  Just that sentimental streak, is one of the reasons why Austin has one of the finest recreation systems in Texas. 
  •  To the hundreds of acres the city already owned in parks, his was the guiding hand behind obtaining the 1100 acres up on Lake Austin for Lake Austin park and the expansion of the city's library and health facilities. He believed more in acquiring property for the city. 
  •  The Butler tract along the river was one he worked to get among strong opposition from some of his colleagues. On it now is located the new municipal auditorium, the coliseum which was another Miller project  built from an old hanger, the chamber of commerce building, the football course, Disch Field, the city recreation department headquarters and parking space galore. 
  •  The dedication of the auditorium was one of his proud moments. Long a dream of many Austin citizens, it was a demonstration of Miller's favorite maxim: planning is the art of timing. 
  •  He didn't put much truck in formal planners, but when he thought the time was right, the construction of the auditorium was put to a vote of the people. They approved and today the big hall brings pleasure to thousands and profit to Austin business through its conventions. 
  •  As Leslie Pearson told you a little earlier, you can travel almost any direction in Austin and see hundreds of projects in which he had a part. 
  •  Today, Bergstrom field is an integral part of this city's economy and Tom Miller worked long and hard with Lyndon Johnson and others to meet the exacting requirements of the Air Force. 
  •  He also helped with getting camp Swift in the belief that anything adding to the economy of this region would ehlp Austin. Today they say that Brackenridge Hospital is running over again, twice during his years as mayor, the building was expanded. 
  •  In recent times, we acquired a low water dam and a new town lake still unnamed, and a new power plant which already demands expansion. An air terminal city comparable to those in much large cities. 
  •  That does not detract from the dedicated work of other men on the council that you have seen here tonight, to say that no other citizen since the village of Waterloo became the capital of Texas, has worked so long and so hard to make Austin grow and prosper.  
  •  None of these things just happen. They happen because a man had the will to work and the vision to see. 
  •  One of our most forgotten battles in Miller's career of many battles was to transform peaceful East Avenue into a busy thoroughfare. To get this segment of the interregional highway, a huge bond issue had to be voted. 
  •  Many people opposed it, included some council members, many people in South  Austin at that time. The voters narrowly approved that issue. The construction got underway. It has now become one of the busiest thoroughfares in Texas. 
  •  Miller was there during the final completion of the segment through the heart of Austin. He never saw the finally finished product. A section of the road which will open the nation from North to South. 
  •  Tom Miller was a most unrelenting democrat. His proudest moment was when Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to Austin and a hundred foot neon sign on fifth avenue near the Katy tracks and his often used slogan, "prosperity's rose blooms again, with Roosevelt." 
  •  Because Austin's business is closely intertwined with the state of Texas, he has known and won the respect of every governor from Moody down through the O'Daniel administration and down to the present governor, Price Daniel. 
  •  An official greater for Austin, he has met political figure of every stature, but the one warmes spot he always reserved for such men as Sam Rayburn. He was convinced that Rayburn should have been president. 
  •  During the numerous splits within his democratic party, Miller tried to heal the wounds but at a showdown he stood with those who pledged loyalty to the party. He considered Lyndon Johnson his protégé. 
  •  He was chairman of Johnson's 1960 campaign for the presidency. He loved to give banquets, particularly political fundraising dinners, and always when he was host, pickled peaches was on the menu. And he was his own best customer at these dinners. 
  •  His last political endeavor was the Johnson campaign. Ill when he went to Los Angeles to the national convention, he flew back, his first plane ride. Soon thereafter he went into the hospital for what turned out to be his last illness. This afternoon, Vice President Johnson came to Austin to say farewell to his old friend. 
  •  Austin has lost one of its greatest public servants. And I have lost one of my best personal friends. For over 30 years, it was my pleasure to work close with Tom Miller in the field of public affairs.  
  •  He was a man who believed in fighting the ancient enemies of mankind: inequality, poor health, ignorance, illiteracy. You could always find Tom Miller standing up on the side of the people.  
  •  He believed with Benjamin Franklin that one should resolve to perform what you aught and perform to resolve without fail. 
  •  Tom Miller did that when he started something, he made it go. He worked for the University of Texas, he worked to bring Bergstrom field to Austin, he worked for a new city hall and for new school buildings for our children. 
  •  He worked to make the hill country a paradise with its dams and its lakes and bring REA to each humble home. 
  •  Tom Miller always thought of the other fellow, and spent most of his waking hours working for him. We shall miss him. But he leaves a fine family, an able young son who I trust will carry on in his footsteps.  
  •  Now for just a moment or so I'd like to interject myself into this narrative to say that I was proud that Tom Miller considered me a personal friend. I've leaned on him, but at least he listened to me, during personal crises and his advice was always good. 
  •  No one has mention up to now that the best way to assure the success of your charitable drives here is Austin was to name Tom Miller as chairman. The only year the United fund ever exceeded his quota was the year Tom Miller was chairman and the same is true for the drives which he headed. 
  •  He was an easy touch personally. And if he thought the cause was just, he touched his friends just as hard as he had been touched. He didn't ask them what they wanted to give, he told them what he thought they should give. 
  •  He enjoyed his fights at the city council, particularly those with Mrs. Emma Long. They always made up eventually, but at times he'd urge Emma to tell Stewart to come down so he'd have somebody to fight.   
  •  Radio reporters baffled him. They got the stories on the air too fast to please him. 
  •  A newspaper story, now he'd go down to the paper and he could talk to Charlie Green, or Bill Weeg, and tell them how the story should be worded, but by the time he got away from the council and over to our office, the story had long since been aired. 
  •  He tried to make up for that by catching me before I left council meetings and saying, "be sure to include this or that," very important. I know that the reporters who cover the last big story at city hall will long remember the stubbornness with which he clung to his position. That was on the big gas fight. 
  •  Well, now the story has ended. I think Tom would like for us to summarize that story with help from his well thumbed Shakespeare : "Praising what is lost makes the memory dear."    
  •  To the adjectives you have heard, we could add others: he was eloquent, one might say loquacious. He was tenacious, some would say stubborn. 
  •  He held loyalty a high virtue. His personal business suffered by his devotion to city affairs. He may have reasoned that time of life is short. 
  •  To spend that time basely were too long. He delighted in canny deals for the city and no doubt told himself, he is well paid that is well satisfied. He shall have a noble memory. So may his rest his thoughts lie gently on him. 
  •  And the final word is his own. The phrase he used to comfort the bereaved: memories are the sweetest flowers that blossom in the valley of life. 
  •  Paul Bolton, Reporter 
  •  Lester Palmer, former Mayor of Austin 
  •  Taylor Glass, former Mayor of Austin 
  •  W.S. "Bill" Drake, former Mayor of Austin 
  •  Congressman Homer Thornberry, Austin City Council 
  •  Oswald Wolf, Austin City Council 
  •  E.C. "Gene" Bartholomew, Austin City Council 
  •  Wesley Pearson, Austin City Council 
  •  Ben White, Austin City Council 
  •  Emma Long, Austin City Council.  Elected in 1948, Emma Long was the first woman elected to serve on the council of a large Texas city.  She served on the Austin City Council for 16 years. 
  •  Edgar Perry, III, Austin City Council 
  •  Hub Bechtol, Austin City Council 
  •  Charlie Green, Editor of the Austin American Statesman 
  •  Bill Weeg, Reporter 
  •  Bill Woods, Reporter 
  •  Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson 
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This tribute to Austin's former Mayor, Tom Miller, produced on the occasion of his death on April 30, 1962, includes a biographical sketch, overview of his achievements and political career, and remarks by a number of people who knew and worked with him. Presented by KTBC-TV, narrated by Paul Bolton, and directed by Gordon Wilkison.

A lifelong Austin resident, Robert Thomas Miller was born on September 21, 1893 in a house on the corner of Austin Congress Avenue and Second Street. He grew up nearby in a home on First and San Jacinto, attended the Austin public schools and one year at the University of Texas. Upon his father's death in 1916, he left the university to take over his father's produce and cotton business with his brother. In 1924 the business moved into a large warehouse at 301 W. Fourth street, where it remained until the mid-1960s.

Miller served as mayor for 22 years, from 1933 through 1949, and again from 1955 until 1961, never receiving a salary (he continued to run the produce business from City Hall.) Miller's political skills and contacts (he was a personal friend of LBJ) contributed to his success in bringing federal project dollars to Austin. Some Austin institutions that can be credited to Miller's mayorship include the land for Bergstrom Air Force Base and for the expansion of Mueller Airport, construction of the Tom Miller Dam, the Municipal Golf Course, Municipal Auditorium, and an assortment of public facilities such as playgrounds, libraries, and community centers. Also of significance was his support of Austin's African-American community, which included appointments to city boards and allocating funds for East Austin improvements.

Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation.  At the time the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades - during the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the president's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents. 
A particularly notable moment in his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas. 
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.    
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.
William Homer Thornberry was a democratic politician born in Austin on January 9, 1909. His parents, William and Mary, were both deaf and taught at the State School for the Deaf and Blind. Homer graduated from Austin High School and earned his bachelor’s and a law degree from the University of Texas.  He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1937, where he remained until 1941. He briefly served as a District Attorney for Travis County before enlisting the Navy during World War II. He also sat on the Austin City Council and served as Mayor Pro Tempore. 
In 1948, Thornberry was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, taking over Lyndon Johnson’s seat. He remained until his resignation in 1963, when President Kennedy appointed him to the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. He held that position until 1965, when President Johnson appointed him to be a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he presided over many civil rights cases. He was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court when Abe Fortas was poised to replace Chief Justice Earl Warren, but that nomination was rescinded when Fortas withdrew his own nomination. 
Thornberry was elected to the Austin High School Hall of Honor in 1983, and he received the Leon Green Award from the Texas Law Review Association of the University of Texas Law School in 1986. He was married to Eloise Engle until her death in 1989, and he died on December 12, 1995 in Austin.