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John Miller, who has been a state senator representing the Historic Triangle since 2008, died Monday morning. He was 68.
He died of an apparent heart attack, according to a statement from Jen Tierney, chairwoman of the James City County Democrats.
“Those of us who knew Senator Miller personally will miss his kind, gentle spirit and the grace he offered to a political process sorely in need of it,” Tierney said. “We lost one of the good guys today.”
Miller, a Democrat who won his third term in the General Assembly in November, represented District 1, which includes the City of Williamsburg, parts of James City and York counties and parts of Newport News, Hampton and Suffolk.
“The people of the Peninsula and the Commonwealth of Virginia lost a selfless public servant today with his passing,” said Del. Monty Mason (D-District 93), who called Miller a “mentor, confidant and colleague.”
After a career as a TV journalist in Hampton Roads, Miller took a job as the administrative assistant for U.S. Sen. Paul Trible. Though he went back to journalism for a stint, he again joined Trible, who had become president of Christopher Newport University. Miller worked in intergovernmental affairs, serving as the college’s liaison in Richmond.
“He was well-regarded in Hampton Roads. I think he was bipartisan in his approach and respected by people on both sides of the aisle,” said York County Administrator Neil Morgan, who previously served as city manager for Newport News. “He was very knowledgeable about the issues of Hampton Roads and a friend of local government. He understood the relationship between state government and local government. It’s a bit of an arcane topic but he always handled it very well.”
Miller became known for his strong advocacy for education reform. During the League of Women Voters forum with his opponent last October, he replied “education, education, education” when asked to name his three priorities for the 2016 legislative session.
“We are distressed by Senator Miller’s sudden death. His family is very much in our thoughts,” College of William & Mary President Taylor Reveley said in a statement. “John has long been a stalwart friend of William & Mary as he was of education throughout the Commonwealth. He was a frequent visitor to our campus. We will miss him.”
In 2015, he successfully passed legislation that decreased the number of Standards of Learning tests public school students would take over the course of their education from 34 to 29. In 2016, he was the chief sponsor of a successful bill that requires at least 20 minutes of physical activity per day or 100 minutes per week for elementary students, and is one of the architects of a new curriculum for high schoolers that will begin in 2018.
“Dorothy and I are deeply saddened by the loss of Senator John Miller, a moderate voice in the General Assembly, a knowledgeable lawmaker and a public servant who represented his constituents with skill and compassion,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement. “… He had a clear vision of the challenges facing Virginia, and he put forward clear goals for reaching solutions on issues ranging from climate change to redistricting reform. His many accomplishments are a testimony to his hard work and thorough attention to the needs of his district and the Commonwealth.”
Miller is survived by his wife Sharron, his two children and his grandson.