From jostling for first place in stock car races in Winchester to navigating the halls of the General Assembly in Richmond as a delegate and state senator, Kevin Miller lived a varied life, his younger brother Clinton Miller said.
Kevin Miller, a Harrisonburg resident who served as a state delegate, a 26th District state senator and James Madison University professor, died on Friday at 89, according to his obituary in the Daily News-Record.
Before his time in Richmond, Miller jointly owned a stock car with friends in Woodstock, which they would race at the Winchester Speedway.
“I just remember one time I went to some race and he wrecked, but he wasn’t hurt,” Clinton Miller said. “That’s something from his past I think very few people would recall.”
Both Kevin and Clinton Miller represented parts of the Valley, including Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, in a joint seat of the House of Delegates from 1978 to 1982.
Clinton Miller said Kevin brought out the best in him, and he brought out the best in Kevin as they worked together in Richmond.
In 1983, Kevin Miller won his first election to the 26th Senate District, a seat he would hold until retiring from the General Assembly in 2003.
Nathan Miller, of no relation to Kevin and Clinton Miller, was the 26th District senator before Kevin and grew close with the brothers.
The Miller brothers “politically fit like a glove with the Rockingham County, Shenandoah, Page areas we represented,” Nathan Miller, a Harrisonburg attorney, said.
In an interview on Wednesday, he described his relationship with Kevin as close, as they would regularly discuss issues facing the communities.
“Kevin was an approachable senator and House member,” Nathan Miller said. “And I think he served his district, whether it was the House or Senate, faithfully and tried to be responsive to his constituents’ concerns.”
The man who replaced him in the 26th Senate District, Mark Obenshain, credits Kevin Miller with helping prepare him for his career in politics.
“I remember — I guess the first time I met Kevin was in 1982 when he was running for Congress and I was a college student at Virginia Tech,” Obenshain said.
That year, Miller narrowly lost the race for the 6th Congressional House District to Democrat James Orlin by 1.2%, or 1,700 votes, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.
When Obenshain came to Harrisonburg as a young lawyer in 1987, he said, Miller played a large role in building Obenshain’s connections.
Obenshain said he was looking to get more involved in local affairs at the time, and a Republican Party committee was looking for a vice chairman. That’s when Miller mentioned Obenshain.
“Little did I know, the chairman was going to resign within two months,” Obenshain said.
“So, thanks to Kevin Miller, I became chairman of the Republican county committee within months of arriving in Harrisonburg and held that post for six years until I could find somebody else to take on that responsibility,” Obenshain laughed.
Miller’s decision to announce his retirement nearly two years before the end of his last four-year term in the General Assembly led to a long primary campaign in which Obenshain was seen as the favorite for the GOP nomination, political observers said at the time. Obenshain, R-Rockingham, has held the seat since being elected in 2003.
“Kevin twice kind of tossed me from the frying pan into the fire,” Obenshain said. “And while I may not have appreciated it fully at the time, it really served me well both times and I’m grateful.”
And Obenshain said he learned much from the man whose seat he holds in the Senate.
“His kind of dedication was certainly important to me and in terms of the example he set for serving people of this community,” Obenshain said.
Clinton Miller said Kevin’s work as a diesel mechanic on Okinawa during the Korean War and in Virginia for the Bluebell jean plants in Luray and Woodstock translated to politics.
It was that pragmatic approach to fixing machines Kevin Miller employed in Richmond to grapple with political issues, he said.
“See a problem, fix the problem, don’t agonize over it, try hard to find a solution — that was Kevin in a capsule,” Clinton Miller said.