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October 8, 2013

Hugh Miller's dedication to social justice was 'a driving force'

WATERLOO - From education to politics, from the judicial system to the sport of soccer, Hugh Miller embraced all of his endeavours with a spirit of commitment and compassion.

Miller — a former dean at Renison University College, provincial NDP candidate and, most recently, executive director at Youth in Conflict with the Law — died suddenly of a heart attack August 5, 2013. He was 70.

Family members said he spent his last day gardening with his wife, Judith, sharing stories of their introduction to their latest grandchild, born Saturday.

Miller's dedication to social justice was grounded in his Maritime roots, his family said.

"In seafaring communities, people pull together to survive, something Hugh experienced firsthand during summers on Campobello Island, N.B.," read an email from the Miller family. "He brought those attitudes to his family. We learned from him that we are better when we are part of a loving community."

For the past 20 years, Miller served as executive director at Youth in Conflict with the Law, an organization that provides supervision to youth and adults out on bail as they face criminal charges.

"He had a lot of compassion for people who were marginalized in our community," said bail supervisor Katrina Rolfe-da Silva, describing Miller as a quiet, careful listener. "He genuinely cared."

Miller assumed the role in 1993 from Andrew Telegdi, the organization's founding executive director, when Telegdi was first elected as a Liberal MP.

The two men ran against each other in the 1990 provincial election, with Miller placing second, and Telegdi third, in the former riding of Waterloo North.

Despite their different political stripes, Miller assisted Telegdi in his municipal campaigns. "We had some spirited debates," Telegdi said.

But the two men found much common ground, especially when it came to a desire to make the world a better place.

"It was very much a driving force, and he stood up for and fought for his principles," Telegdi said.

Miller ran twice for a spot at Queen's Park, in 1990 and 1995. At one point on the night of Sept. 6, 1990, his supporters thought he was on the way to victory.

It was not to be, as PC Elizabeth Witmer would claim the seat she'd go on to hold until her resignation in 2012.

In the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection that followed, the NDP's Catherine Fife claimed victory — 22 years, to the night, after Miller's strong showing.

Miller, who served for 15 years as the NDP's Kitchener-Waterloo riding president, was one of the first people Fife saw as she arrived for her victory party.

"It was very moving to see the work that he, and others, had done for years finally being rewarded," said Scott Piatkowski, vice-president of the Ontario NDP.

To Piatkowski, and Fife, and countless others, Miller was a political mentor.

"We could always count on him to help," Piatkowski said. "He really made strong friendships, and that's a side of politics that people don't see."

In recognition of his contributions, the party made Miller a life member in 2006.

"Hugh was dedicated to our community, his family and friends. He was involved in many community boards and initiatives that changed Kitchener-Waterloo for the better," Fife said in a statement. "Over the course of his career and volunteer endeavours he inspired many people to become involved in their communities, myself included."

During his time at Renison University College, Miller was "the principal architect" of its Social Development Studies program.

Offering courses in human and social development, including psychology, sociology and social work, it remains one of the top programs in the Faculty of Arts and the University of Waterloo, said retired religion and culture professor Darrol Bryant.

"We were trying to come up with a program that would tie the college together and give it clarity of direction. Hugh was really at the centre of that," Bryant said. "He was an academic with a lively social conscience who saw the academic world as contributing to social change."

A longtime board member and past-president of the Waterloo Minor Soccer Club, Miller played a key role in the construction of the indoor facility at Bechtel Park.

"I was always impressed with the effort he put in on behalf of the children of Waterloo," said former executive member Mike Rowe.

The KW Record.

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