Foundation News

June 1, 2017

Miller Foundation History

“ A promise made is a debt unpaid. ”

James Francis “Jim” Miller was born in Linnton, Oregon in 1905.  His mother, Annie, born in 1875, immigrated from Scotland at the age of 13 and instilled in her children a life-long pride of their Scottish heritage. She arrived in Baltimore, Maryland with her parents and then the family moved to Kansas to farm.  The Midwest winters proved harsh, and the family moved to Linnton, Oregon in 1890.

Jim’s father, James, born in 1870, was living in Linnton, having moved there from The Dalles.  Annie and James married in 1899. They moved briefly to Salt Lake City, where their oldest son, William was born in 1902.  They moved back to Linnton where Jim was born in 1905 and attended the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exhibition in his mother’s arms.  His sister Dorothy was born in 1907 and brother Grant was born in 1909.

Jim began his education at Linnton Grade School. The family moved to Seaside towards the end of elementary school. It was at Seaside that he developed his life-long affection for the Oregon Coast and an appreciation of Dungeness crabs and razor clams. He attended his first year of high school in Seaside before the family moved back to Linnton. He first attended James John High School (which is now Roosevelt High School) and took the ferry across the Willamette River to and from school every day. Jim ultimately graduated from Lincoln High School in 1921 at the age of 16.

The Miller family valued education but lacked the means to send their children to university.  While searching for a job after high school, a family friend told Jim about an office boy (board chalker) job at Blyth Witter and Company. During his interview with Mansell Griffiths he was told, “Now, we’re going to hire you and it’s an office boy job and nothing really great about it, but if you do your job properly and keep your ears and eyes open and learn something about this business, you might be rewarded because this is going to be a great business”. In the 1920’s the securities business was in its infancy, and Jim learned it from the ground up.

Mansell Griffiths gave Jim two pieces of advice which shaped him personally and professionally.  First, he advised him that lumber was going to be a crucial part of the economy and always to consider the value of timber. The second was a quote that Jim lived by for the rest of his life: "A promise made is a debt unpaid." To him, it meant being counted on to do the things you say you are going to do, without a doubt.

In 1926, while out dancing at the Indian Grill in the Multnomah Hotel, Jim met Marion Look, the daughter of Louis and Nellie Look. Marion was attending the University of Oregon, which made their courtship difficult, as Jim was living in Portland. Their courtship lasted from 1926 to 1929. They optimistically married on November 18th, 1929, three weeks to the day of the October ’29 stock market crash. They honeymooned in Hawaii via steamship. Their only daughter, Jacqueline was born in 1931.

The Millers prospered in Portland through the 1930’s and 40’s as Jim worked his way up in Blyth and Co., building a reputation as a trusted investment advisor and an expert at valuing lumber. In 1958, Jim was promoted to Senior Vice President, and he and Marion moved to New York City. They were somewhat reluctant to make the move but ultimately came to love their new city, particularly the many cultural offerings, including the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, and American Ballet Theater. Jim remained connected to Oregon, primarily through his contacts in the lumber industry.

Throughout their lives, he and Marion gave generously to many cultural and educational institutions in both Oregon and New York. Jim was passionate about learning and researched languages, history, mythology, literature, ballet, music, the arts and other cultures.

Towards the end of his career, he began to think more deeply about philanthropy.  When Marion passed away in 1998, Jim made the decision to return to Portland.  He began to contribute to arts and education non-profits throughout the state of Oregon, ultimately creating the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation in 2002. He continued to invest in the markets and advise others until his passing in 2004.

The Foundation continues to honor the Millers' passion for education and the arts and a life-long love of Oregon.