Zell Miller was born on February 24th, 1932. the same day of the month that my dad was born, but a different year. They were similar in many ways. Both were lifelong conservative Democrats. Both were educators. Zell is the only man to have been the keynote speaker at both the Democrat and Republican Conventions.
Zell Miller died on March 23, 2018. He has left the mountains that he loved so much, to lie in state under the gold-covered dome of the Georgia Capital. This man served as Lt. Governor of Georgia for 16 years and 8 years as Governor, leaving office with an eighty-five percent approval rating.
Governor Miller left us with Hope (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) on leaving the governor’s office. Over 1.8 million students in Georgia made a “B” average in High School and were able to continue their education in college with the assistance of the Hope scholarship program. Many other states have followed Zell’s leadership and established programs similar to the Georgia plan. Millions of students across this land were able to attend college because of the legacy of Zell Miller.
The Hope scholarship plan was financed from the profits of the Georgia Lottery. Governor Miller took advantage of the proclivity of some people to gamble, and let the gamblers finance college education. A brilliant idea.
Zell was a college professor before entering the political world, as was his wife Shirley. He gave underpaid teachers a six percent raise for four years in a row, an amazing accomplishment.
Adding to his other achievements, he became an author, publishing about eleven books. His first book was Mountains Within Me, soon to be followed with Corp Values. In Corps Values he told how, as a young man, he spent a night in jail after being arrested for DUI. He was humiliated by what he had done, and realized that he had let his mother down.
His father had died when Zell was 17 days old, and his Mom had raised him and his sister without the help of a father. She even carried rocks from a nearby creek and built a house on the main street of Young Harris, Georgia with these stones, which was occupied by Zell when he passed away.
Young Zell knew that he needed some self-discipline and decided to join the Marines. He told this story in his book, Corps Values. I was impressed with his achievements after his service in the Marines and passed this book along to my son Bradford. Evidently Bradford was also impressed, since he has his only tattoo, the word “discipline” on his upper arm.
Zell Miller went on to serve Georgia as a US Senator, where he went to the well of the Senate to tell the world about the difference between a Mountaineer and a Hillbilly. I have a story titled “Mountaineer or Hillbilly?” in my book Depression Baby that covers this same subject.
I dropped by Zell’s home to thank him for his words in Corps Values, and to give him a copy of “Mountaineer or Hillbilly?” There were papers all over his sofa, and he explained, “As you can see, I’m writing another book.” His wife Shirley was decorating their Christmas tree as we talked. As I left, Zell took me out on the front porch and pointed across a field below his home to where he and his mother got the creek rocks to build their home. This was the last time that I saw this amazing Mountaineer.