Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

February 2, 2001

CAROLINE MILLER, 64, whose career includes achievements in labor, education, politics and the arts, entered Labor's Hall of Fame this month. She was selected for the honor by the sponsoring Northwest Oregon Labor Retirees Council.

The Retirees Council is affiliated with the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO, headquartered at 1125 SE Madison St., Portland. Labor's Hall of Fame was established in1997 to honor retired unionists for their accomplishments.

Miller held the office of president of Portland Federation of Teachers and Classified Employees Local 111, AFL-CIO, in the 1970s and then went on to a career in elected public office.

MILLER WAS BORN in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone in Central America. Her mother, a native of Costa Rica, met and married an Indiana-born United States sailor who was stationed on a Navy submarine in the then-U.S.-run Canal Zone.

Caroline moved to the Los Angeles area with her mother after her parents were divorced. Upon graduating from Santa Monica High School she made a decision that would shape her future life. She decided to obtain her higher education at the highly regarded Reed College, a private institution in southeast Portland's Woodstock district.

Following her graduation from Reed with a bachelor's degree in 1959, Miller embarked on a great adventure, traveling in Europe and Africa, financing her travels by teaching on both continents. In 1963 she returned to Reed to study for a master's degree. After receiving it in 1964 she began teaching high school-level English in the Portland School District. A number of union members fondly remember her as their teacher. She taught at Wilson and Cleveland High Schools.

MILLER TOOK A LEAVE of absence from the Portland School District in 1969 to study for a year at the University of Northern Arizona in order to earn a master's degree in literature. In 1970 she returned to Portland to resume her teaching career.

Throughout her teaching years Miller was active in Portland Federation of Teachers Local 111, an affiliate of the Oregon and American Federations of Teachers, AFL-CIO.

Local 111 won collective bargaining rights for Portland teachers for a two-year period in the early 1970s, defeating the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT). However, PAT, which had held the bargaining rights before Local 111's two-year tenure, later regained the rights and still represents Portland teachers. In 1975 Miller was elected president of Local 111.

UNDER MILLER'S LEADERSHIP, Local 111 gained collective bargaining rights for most of the classified or non-teaching employees in the Portland School District. This new constituency for Local 111 included teaching aides, office secretaries and others, except for teachers, represented by PAT, custodians and cafeteria workers, represented by School Employees Local 140, and maintenance workers, represented by building trades locals. Her prudent financial stewardship took Local 111 out of the heavy indebtedness left by the unsuccessful organizing campaigns of her predecessors. Instead of hiring a lobbyist for Local 111, Miller herself represented the union's interests at the Oregon Legislature in Salem.

Her success as a local union president attracted the attention of leaders in government and labor. Mayor Neil Goldschmidt appointed Miller to the Mayor's Economic Development Commission. Oregon AFL-CIO officers, recognizing her knowledge of parliamentary procedure and Roberts' Rules of Order, appointed her as the parliamentarian of state labor conventions.

When the Portland area's regional government agency, the Metropolitan Service District, now known simply as Metro, was formed, Miller was urged to run for its governing board of councilors by labor, management and Democratic leaders. She polled the most votes of the 12 councilors elected in 1978.

MILLER'S BALLOT-BOX popularity at Metro prompted key Democrats to recruit her as a candidate against a Multnomah County commissioner whose critics regarded him as an embarrassment because he sometimes fell asleep at meetings and asked comical questions. Miller defeated him in 1980.

As a county commissioner, she supported workers' issues, advocated fiscal responsibility and was Multnomah County Employees Local 88's go-to ally on the county's governing body. Among her duties was serving on a committee on the accreditation of law enforcement agencies. She served two four-year terms, but a term limits provision in the county charter prevented her from running for a third term.

When she finished her second term as a county commissioner, Miller was 52 years old. Rather than seek election to an office at City Hall or in the Legislature, she elected to move on to a new phase in her life.

WANTING TO EXPAND her artistic horizons beyond her hobby of making stained glass, Miller enrolled in art classes at Pacific Northwest College of Art and at area community colleges. The medium on which she chose to work was painting on silk. Some of her silk landscapes were on exhibit last fall at a gallery downtown.

A published poet since 1972 and also a free-lance writer, Miller set aside time for creative writing on her computer as part of her new phase. So far, her short stories have appeared in half a dozen literary magazines, and she's written a play, "Woman on the Scarlet Beast," that's been given a dramatic reading in Portland at the Women's Theater and a reading in Carmel, Calif., by a theatrical company there.

Miller has also done some prosaic work since leaving the county commission. For 10 years she was a mediator of civil cases in the county's small claims court. She also did part-time work providing Local 88 with expert analysis of the county's annual budgets.

FOR A NUMBER of years after leaving county elective office, Miller was a hospice volunteer, caring for the sick and terminally ill in their homes. She was assigned to patients by the Volunteer Nurses Association. She still spends time as a caregiver and errand-runner for her mother and for a close friend. She's been a volunteer reader for blind listeners on Oregon Public Radio, and she writes letters to prisoners in foreign jails on behalf of Amnesty International.


THE NEWHOUSE Oregonian newspaper devoted a column of space to a thumb-sucking exercise in trying to explain how its so-called editors arrive at a decision on whether a dead person rates a news story and maybe even a picture instead of just an ordinary obit with the deceased's name as the headline.

Left unsaid was that if the deceased was a friend of someone well-placed in the paper's pecking order, then that person's passing gets a long story with a large headline and a picture if one's readily available. One case in point was the death of an editor at a Newhouse paper in New Jersey who was a friend of Onian publisher Fred Stickel from his days in what's called the Garden State. Another instance was the death of a scab reporter who'd started working at the Oregon Journal (later swallowed up by Newhouse) in the early days of the1959-65 newspaper strike. Still other examples were men with limited achievements gained elsewhere who'd lived in Portland only briefly but had apparently impressed someone at the Onian.

People who were born in Portland and achieved fame elsewhere and died away from Portland usually fail to get their passing mentioned in their old hometown paper even though they rate news stories in New York, Washington, Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle papers - most of which are scanned, if not read, by "editors" at Portland's morning Newhouse.


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