Foundation News

June 15, 2004

Financier and Philanthropist Passes Away at 99.

MILLER , JAMES F. Financier and Philanthropist Passes Away at 99.

James F. ''Jimmy'' Miller was many things in life: stockbroker, Fortune 500 CEO, financier, philanthropist, insatiable reader, conversationalist and a devotee of fine arts of all descriptions... a true Renaissance man. Among his disappointments was never achieving his early dream of teaching. Mr. Miller often commented, ''If I'd had the money when I was young, I'd have been an English professor.'' Mr. Miller died last week in Portland at the age of 99.

Born in 1905 and raised in Oregon, James Miller began working as an office boy at Blyth & Co. (predecessor to Paine Webber/UBS Financial Services) in Portland after graduating from Lincoln High School at the age of 16. Ultimately rising to President of Blythe & Co. in the 1960s, his skills at research, a photographic memory and a head for numbers propelled him to the top of one of Wall Street's leading investment banks despite attending the University of Washington for just one year. His passion for education as seen in his philanthropic support for both scholarships and buildings in part arose from his life-long regret at not being able to complete his own formal education.

Mr. Miller assumed his role as a broker in Blyth's Portland office as a young man shortly before the Crash of 1929. The company threatened to close the office during the Depression, but Mr. Miller and his partners agreed to work for nothing but a share of their own commissions in order to keep the office open. Dismal as the climate was, Mr. Miller persevered reassuring skeptical customers and convincing many to buy stock when the masses were selling. Most subsequently prospered from Mr. Miller's advice, some continuing as clients for over the next 50 years. While sharing a Depresion-era ethic for hard work, Mr. Miller attributed his success to his oft-repeated creed, ''A promise made is a debt unpaid.''

In an oral history taken by the Oregon Historical Society, Mr. Miller commented, ''I've never had a written contract with anybody, ever. It's all been a verbal contract, a handshake and all those deals have worked out a hundred percent just the way we started them. Their word was good, my word was good, and it worked out.'' Investing was Mr. Miller's forte and, in his 82-year career, he made himself wealthy doing so.

In an era of great corporate growth in America, he distinguished himself and his firm by doing some of the most creative financing in his time. Among the many corporations he served as either director or financier were Albermarle Paper, Ethyl Corp., Fibreboard Corp., Georgia Pacific, Morse Shoe, Dant & Russell, Maine Central Railroad, Louisiana Pacific and Willamette Industries.

Mr. Miller did indeed have a keen appreciation for the forest products industry, particularly the importance of sustained-yield forestry. Little known about Mr. Miller was his inspiration for financing the reforestation of the Tillamook Burn through the sale of long term municipal bonds to be repaid through the sale of selective harvest of timber decades later. No such transaction had ever been undertaken.

Mr. Miller's success as an investor was based upon buying good companies and holding onto them, some for literally decades. Well into his nineties, he could list the more than 100 companies in which he was invested, describe their worth and current activities. Long-time associate Chuck Putney commented, ''Making money in the stock market for Jimmy was as much a game as it was work. He was intuitive, yet he would learn all he could about the companies in which he invested his clients' and his own money.''

A man of truly boundless energy, Mr. Miller walked into the office daily into his nineties both in New York and later from his home nearby the Multnomah Athletic Club. When visiting Portland prior to returning to home in 1998, it was not unusual for Mr. Miller to be seated in one of the brokers' offices prior to the stock market opening, getting quotes, gathering information and reading the Wall Street Journal while others were still commuting to work.

Early on, Mr. Miller also turned his passion for learning away from business to languages, history, literature, art, ballet, music and education. Beginning in the 1940s, he and his wife Marion supported scores of worthy institutions literally throughout the country. He served on the boards or gave generously to the New York Metropolitan Opera, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York City Library. Both as a New Yorker but especially after returning to Oregon, Mr. Miller also generously supported the Oregon Community Foundation, Portland Art Museum, OHSU, Oregon Historical Society, Oregon Symphony, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Portland State University, Lewis & Clark, Linfield College, University of Oregon, Willamette University and Marylhurst University among many other organizations.

Late in life, Mr. Miller expressed pride that he was not a ''first class tightwad'' and that ''the arts and culture of society must be saved for its heirs. That's what I respect.'' Mr. Miller's generosity and philanthropy will be continued through his foundation benefiting the arts and education in Oregon. It was his hope this legacy would serve as an example to mankind as to what was possible given commitment, hard work and the gift of time.

Preceding Mr. Miller in death was his wife of nearly 68 years, Marion, and their daughter, Jacqueline, who passed away early this year. Survivors include two granddaughters, O'Shaughnessy Rice of Portland and Hillary Dawn Scott of Montana and a new great-grandchild. Also surviving Miller are several nieces, nephews, and related family members. Private family services will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church and a celebration of his life will be held at the Oregon Historical Society on Wednesday, June 23 at 3 p.m. Friends and associates are invited to attend.


Published in The Oregonian, June 15, 2004.
Published in the New York Times, July 11, 2004.