Subscribe: Posts | Comments

Dolores Miller, March 19, 1932 – January 28, 2019

Article by Peggy Curlin & Homily by The Rev. Philip G. Emanuel

Dolores Miller (center) at Kanuga in 2015 with Frances Elmore (left) and
Valerie Riley (right)

A Life Well-Lived

by Peggy Curlin, Epistle Editor

Dolores was first and foremost a dedicated churchwoman, with a life that impacted many organizations and influenced many people. One of the key players who made Francis Marion University what it is today, she was also a leader in several civic organizations in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina.

“Working alongside President Doug Smith, Delores played an integral role in establishing Francis Marion College,” FMU President Fred Carter said. “She served faithfully for a quarter of a century as the college expanded its curriculum and grew its enrollment. But well beyond that, she was a vital part of the community, a warm and generous person who made every task and every interaction an absolute delight. FMU will miss her dearly, as will all of Florence.” 

Dolores served 43 years in higher education. She was elected secretary to the State College Board of Trustees (composed of College of Charleston, Lander College and Francis Marion College, later a University) and finally to the Board of Trustees for Francis Marion College from 1988 to 1991. Then in 1991, she was named college projects officer and remained there until her retirement in December 1994. She co-authored Quantum Leap: A Story of Three Colleges (the histories of the College of Charleston, Francis Marion University and Lander College). 

Dolores was very active in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. She was the first female senior warden at St. John’s Episcopal Church. After the Episcopal schism, she became a charter member of St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church. For five years, she wrote and delivered the response to the bishop’s address at the Diocesan Convention.

She was a founding board member of the House of Hope, president of the museum board, a founding member of the League of Women Voters Florence Area and served on the League of Women Voters State Board, a member of Women in Philanthropy 

I first met Dolores in 2005 at a Province IV Altar Guild retreat at Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC. My husband had recently died, I only knew one other person in attendance, and I was feeling somewhat lost and alone. All of a sudden I found myself in the embrace of a small bundle of joy, hugged and welcomed and made a part of a wonderful fellowship. That small person with the big heart was Dolores Miller. Anyone who ever had the pleasure of knowing Dolores knows what I am talking about! Dolores was warm, loving, intelligent, humble, creative, funny, serious, dedicated, wise, and a zillion more adjectives, none of which can totally describe her. 

Many Bishops (past and present) and General Convention attendees will forever remember Dolores as the author of the infamous skit featuring the “Altar Guild Lady” (played by Dolores) and “Lady NAGA” (played by Jane Ames). 

Even though I am way past Medicare age, I always think: “I want to be like Dolores when I grow up.” As soon as I learned of her passing, I started mulling over how to best remember this extra-ordinary doyenne of altar guilds, well-known in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, in Province IV, and in NAGA. The theme “a life well-lived” came immediately to my mind. Imagine my surprise and joy when I attended her memorial service and heard a homily (page 17) based on those very words!

Homily for Dolores Jean Miller

Saturday, March 23, 2019, Christ Church, Florence, SC

by The Rev. Philip G. Emanuel, Priest-in-Charge, St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church, Florence, SC

The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:1- 9

1 Jesus saw the crowds and went up a hill, where he sat down. His disciples gathered around him,
2 and he began to teach them:
3 “Happy are those who know their need of God; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
4 “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
5 “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
6 “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
7 “Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
8 “Happy are the single-minded; they will see God!
9 “Happy are those who work for justice; God will call them his children!

O how happy we are to celebrate and give thanks for the joyful life of Dolores Jean Miller! I chose to read the Beatitudes because I could do no other. When I contemplate Dolores’ life, it is clear to me she embodied in word and deed the characteristics of a life lived within the Kingdom of God.

Trusting, humble, compassionate, single-minded, merciful, a would-be peacemaker, she exuded happiness deepened over time by loss, to be sure, but also with faith, hope, and a love. Hers was a happiness that matured into joy; into a beautiful life of joy. Her happiness in life redounded among us to our joy for all her works of love. The great Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote long ago: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” Life is often challenging to be sure, but nonetheless, her service was joy, both for her and us. Of her joyful service:

We remember that in addition to her dedication to the National and Region IV Altar Guild as an officer, and as president of the board of the Florence museum, she is known far and wide for her important and valued contributions to our community through her development work for Francis Marion University. Happy, and therefore blessed, are we. 

Further, she was a founding board member of House of Hope ministries which for over twenty years has grown to provide all manner of services for the needy. As often as not she was present at the Parking Lot Ministry every Saturday morning to serve breakfast and distribute supplies to indigent brothers and sisters. Every Saturday–except when hurricanes howled overhead. Happy, and therefore blessed, are we.

As a founding member of the League of Women Voters in Florence, she used her leadership skills and commitment to educate our citizens as to their political rights and solemn responsibilities. The importance of this work is put in high relief, is it not, in this time of political stress in our country. As Jefferson wrote: “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.” Happy for her life, and blessed, are we.

Within her beloved Episcopal church, she was elected the first female member of the vestry of a local congregation. She worked on consultative and deliberative diocesan bodies: the Diocesan Council and the Reconciliation Committee during the time of Bishop Salmon. As a founding member of St. Catherine’s, her contributions to our church were many, varied and wonderful. The beatitudes note that disciples of the Kingdom speak the truth for the sake of justice. Doing so is not always easy or popular. In their later years, Frances did much of the heavy cooking, but Dolores did her share — she is known to have stood up all alone in her pew one time to do a fine job grilling an Ordinary! Over a span of five years she is best known for her response to the bishop’s address at our annual convention. She gently and lovingly re-presented the bishop’s remarks with a twinkle in her eye, a slight bit of devilment, and always, hilarity ensued. Indeed it did.

These are but some of the contributions of this remarkable person. How can we begin to describe the wondrous effect she had on others?

The first time I supplied for St. Catherine’s back in the day when they were meeting at the Back Swamp School, it was she who by her greeting made me one of the family; her happiness and joie de vivre was magnetic; love was unmistakable in her holy mirth and the twinkling energy of her person.

And naughtiness! Dolores is known to have helped someone, a staunch Presbyterian she barely knew, to rest easy as she was being loaded into an ambulance by telling her “Give ‘em hell!” I am told that laughter, a calming laughter, ensued.

What was it that even in her eighties, motivated her to climb up a ladder to the second story of their home to polish the windows, and to climb onto kitchen countertops at church to organize the napkins in the high cabinets according to seasonal, liturgical colors?

Though she took her responsibilities seriously and deliberatively, it was with a refined, indeed killer, sense of childlike playfulness, that I am happy and blessed to carry with me in my memory. Her nieces and nephews called her “Aunt Lorrie” and for Frances, them, and us, we are saddened that Aunt Dolores is gone from our sight–but we are better for her long and fruitful life. I think one of our vestry members put our sense of loss best when she wrote: “Dolores brought such unfettered joy to all of us, and our loss is indescribable. She is surely at this moment folding, rearranging, and color-coordinating Heaven, and God is smiling on her.” Our sense of loss — indescribable. But our joy for her life — unbounded.

When it comes to Dolores’ place in our lives I am put in mind of a poem by Emily Dickinson:

 The face I carry with me—last—
When I go out of Time—
To take my Rank—by—in the West—
That face—will just be thine—
I’ll hand it to the Angel—
That—Sir—was my Degree—
In Kingdoms—you have heard the Raised—  
Refer to—possibly.
He’ll take it—scan it—step aside—
Return—with such a crown
As Gabriel—never capered at—
And beg me put it on—
And then—he’ll turn me round and round—
To an admiring sky—
As One that bore her Master’s name—
Sufficent Royalty!

Living a life of faith, hope and joy is its own reward. A life well lived, whose time is well spent for a crown imperishable, is our hope, and to bear it, and wear it well is our joy. Isaiah wrote this word of promise: “For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands”.

“Well, and truly done, Dolores!”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is remembered to have said: “And (though) ye now, therefore, have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one can take from you.”

“Welcome home, dear one.”

Eternal, ever-present God, you are the source of all faith, hope and love and the joy that is ours as your people. We give thanks to you that your joy came to us through Dolores, and as long as we live, her joy remains.

Comments are closed.