The Way We Were: Ross Kimble Miller

The Way We Were: Ross Kimble Miller
Kim Miller fishing in 1998

Southern gentleman Kim Miller believes he is “the luckiest person in the world.”

Kim Miller at age 3
Kim Miller at age 3

Born June 1, 1938, in Lexington, Ky., he and his extended family moved to Jacksonville when he was around 3 years old. “I was so spoiled,” he recalled, noting he was an only child. “My mother’s three sisters and my grandmother moved here with us, so I had three mothers. We lived on Lechlade Circle, near Lee High School, then moved to Kingsley Lake. My aunts all had jobs at Camp Blanding. There was artillery firing and parachuting 24/7. I loved it!”

The family returned to Jacksonville where young Miller attended Ruth N. Upson Elementary School, West Riverside, John Gorrie Junior High and Robert E. Lee, where he graduated in 1956. He remarked that the group of children who went to school with him have remained friends for many years and are a superlative group of people. Miller played baseball, basketball, and in ninth grade went from Gorrie over to Lee to practice with the high school football team. “They used us ninth graders as dummies!” he joked.

Miller’s father served in the military during World War II in the Army Corps of Engineers. Afterward, from around 1946 – 1949, his dad opened an auto repair shop in Fairfax where Harpoon Louie’s is presently located before opening up a Standard Oil station on Edgewood Avenue and Post Street.

Kim Miller with his mother, Kathryn
Kim Miller with his mother, Kathryn

“I learned to drive at the station when I was about 10 years old. People would pull up to get their windshields cleaned, and I’d drive the cars around back. Dad was a semi -pro player on the Standard Oil Company baseball team,” he said.

Miller’s own career as a ball player took off with the Post 9 American Legion where he played over 140 games in a year. The teams had their own managers and were a “big deal.”  Miller’s love of baseball continued into his adulthood. He was Little League manager for the NOL teams for three years in the 1970s.

“I was so lucky. The people I still run with today are people I knew at Lee High School. We get together at the Blue Fish or the Brick – Chester Stokes, Frank Surface, Don Pittman, John Grimsley, Tommy Entenza – Lee Boys. Lee had sororities and fraternities back then. One of the most significant things I did was pledge ADT. I got great direction from the social aspect. We learned how to conduct ourselves and had lots of fun,” Miller said. Like many other residents, he has fond remembrances of dances at Boutwell’s Pier in Ortega.

When not in school, socializing, dancing or playing sports, Miler worked. For several summers he was head usher at the Edgewood Theater, which was located where the neighborhood dispute is currently brewing about storage units. He also operated the pin-setting machine at the bowling alley on St. John’s Avenue, where Blue Fish Restaurant is now located. He even worked in the grocery store that was a few doors down on St. John’s for a while.

Miller’s dad believed his son wasn’t ready to go to college and needed to go into the service. Miller and 200 men in his U.S. Army company left the Jacksonville Train Terminal around 3 a.m. on a cold November morning for Fort Jackson, S.C. Appropriately nicknamed “Lucky,” Miller managed to miss being sent to Korea, he said. “I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Only about a third of the guys in our group had even finished high school, but there were two who had played football for Clemson, so we bummed around together. Mainly I played ball then I was on the honor guard. It was great. I got to travel all over for special events and parades. Someone asked if I was from Jacksonville, and I lucked out again. There was a general who lived in Atlantic Beach who needed someone to drive him around Florida to check on air conditioning at the reserve buildings. So, I did that for about a year then finally got to go to FSU,” he said.

Kim Miller when he graduated from Florida State University
Kim Miller when he graduated from Florida State University

Miller moved into college life at Florida State University in the Business and Economics department. He pledged KA fraternity as did many of his group from high school, got his degree then went to University of Florida for his master’s degree.  He lived in the frat house at FSU with long-time friend and roommate, Ward Matthews, whose dad was in the air conditioning business in Jacksonville. Matthews recalled how he came back to school after a break with a window unit air conditioner. “We were the only people in the house to have air conditioning. Everybody else was roasting, and we’d wake up with the blankets wrapped around our necks. That little a/c would freeze you out. Of course, we had to run people out of there,” Matthews laughed.

Matthews described Miller as a true friend. “He’s not one to intrude, but he is there if you want him.” Their long running pledge has been for Miller to take care of Matthews ‘wife Deanna if something happens to Matthews.

In 1961, Miller married Babs Broome, who had been a cheerleader at Lee High School. They had dated off and on through high school and college. The young couple moved to Jacksonville Beach for four years, and Babs taught science and home economics at Fletcher High School. “Driving to the beach in those days was a TRIP,” Miller said.

Kim Miller with his former wife, Babs Broome,  at a KA party at Florida State University

Miller and his wife moved to Westfield, then to Sherwood Road in Ortega Forrest where they raised their daughters, Katie and Tammy. “Looking at the girls’ faces when they were born, and we brought them home from the hospital, that was exciting,” said Miller, singling out the event from all the interesting things that have filled his life. The couple divorced in 1981.

After working for Johns Manville for 21 years, Miller started his own business, KMI – Kim Miller Inc. and pursued his many and varied interests – hunting, snow skiing, scuba diving in the Bahamas and fishing being high on the list. Miller won fishing tournaments all over Florida, Louisiana and, of course, he fished locally for black bass in the St. Johns River. He belonged to a national bass fishing club. “I have nine black bass mounted which weigh about 12 pounds each,” he said. He still fishes and enjoys trips to the west coast of Florida for off-shore fishing trips with long time buddies Chester Stokes and Frank Surface.

Because he spent his youth jumping over the bulkhead at the end of Grand Avenue near St. Mark’s Episcopal Church to fish, Miller was totally familiar with manatee. “The fish would get right up behind them and follow them as they threw up sand and mud, and I’d follow the fish.” Later, on he volunteered for the St. Johns River Water Management Authority and supervised a group of volunteers to chart the eel grass proliferation in the river. “We were losing grass all the time and they thought it was pollution,” he explained. “We had a 10-person crew with two people assigned to each premeasured 50-yard tape to reach down, grab and identify the grass. That data was tied into a satellite to measure the eel grass beds from Jacksonville to near Palatka. It turned out that the grass was disappearing because of the influx of salt-water.” Miller also joked that he coerced his friends into volunteering to make up for their “mis- spent youth.”

Kim Miller with his daughters, Katie and Tammy
Kim Miller with his daughters, Katie and Tammy

An avid gardener and birder, Miller said his spiritual self is enhanced by the things of the natural world with a quiet time for THANKS-giving. The yard of his home on Pershing Road is filled with bird feeders and an abundance of interesting plants and flowers, particularly orchids. When the weather is amenable, Miller has what he calls his orchid tree in the back yard where he hangs his numerous plants. He is also is knowledgeable on many topics including ornithology and lepidoptery – Monarch butterflies being a specialty – which he used to hatch in the house. He laughed remembering the time his daughter Tammy went into her bedroom and opened a drawer. She let out a blood curdling scream and ran into the living room with a huge Monarch butterfly attached to her face, its tentacles up her nose.

Miller was always an enthusiastic dancer. “I love to dance and dance with everybody.” He is a member of the Ortega River Club where he enjoys line dancing and old-time beach bop. A member recently stated, “Kim is a great dancer!” 

In his retirement all that dancing, gardening and golfing with his pal Mattox Hair keeps him in good shape. He especially likes the song with an anti-aging theme by Toby Keith called “Don’t Let the Old Man In.” Miller certainly keeps the “old man” out of his life with his upbeat spirit and creative activities. A bachelor, he jokes that now that his eyesight is diminished, his dates must do the driving and come pick him up. “I tell them they can’t just honk the horn, they have to come to the door like a Southern Gentleman would. But they honk the horn of course.”

Miller has many wonderful childhood memories. “It’s been a great ride,” he said, remarking that his mother, Kathryn Miller, was probably the most influential person in his life. “She was full of grace. She took us to games, drove us around. She helped me in everything.”

Kim Miller in his back yard
Kim Miller in his back yard

Miller said he was loved as he grew up. He had and still has many friends. He finds joy in his daughters and his grandson, Ross, but there have also been sorrows. His grandson Chad died as the result of a motorcycle accident at the age of 19. A dear friend, Hugh Coleman with whom he “fished all over the place” passed on five years ago. A painting by C. Ford Riley in Miller’s dining room of two little boys heading off down a road with fishing poles reminds him of his friend.

As Miller surrounds himself with beauty and embraces life, his motto is: “Have fun, Go hard!” And, of course, always behave like a gentleman.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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