Hundreds of people gathered Sunday to honor Leroy “Pop” Miller, an educator who helped Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools navigate the turbulent period of desegregation and helped shaped generations of Charlotteans.
He was remembered as a teacher and principal who selected a church because many of his students were members, and he was a grandfather who attended a Destiny’s Child and Nelly concert at the age of 81 because his grandsons wanted to go.
“Uncle Roy was a big man with a big personality but with an even bigger heart,” said Karen Davis Dixon, Miller’s godchild.
Miller died Feb. 28 at 94, having spent the past decade living with family in Kansas City, Mo.
Miller began teaching industrial arts at West Charlotte in 1945, after serving in World War II, and became assistant principal in 1963. He was named principal of the newly integrated Carmel Junior High in 1971 and took over East Mecklenburg High in 1973, leading that school until he retired nine years later.
‘A second father’
Though Miller was an important figure in helping Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools during desegregation, most people who spoke Sunday at a service at Greenville Memorial AME Zion Church remembered how he affected them personally.
Barbara Ledford and Judy Atwell, speaking on behalf of East Mecklenburg staff members, past and present, recalled the way that Miller set the tone and raised the bar for the school.
They also shared some of the “Pop-isms” that Miller was known to say frequently: “Expectations are the seeds of success.” “Ninety-nine percent of you are Golden Eagles, and we’re going to work with the rest of you turkeys.” And, to the teachers, “Tell me what you need, and I’ll do my best to see that you get it.”
Sonya Gantt and Jennifer Roberts, representing former East Mecklenburg High School students, recalled how Miller took a special interest in all of his students, encouraging them to develop their talents and taking note when they were struggling.
“Pop was a second father: watching out for our best interests, pushing us to do our best and snapping us back into place if we ever got out of line,” said Roberts, former chair of the Mecklenburg County commissioners and an East Meck student under Miller.
Glenda Manning, representing past West Charlotte students, remembered arriving at school one day in a short skirt and red lipstick. Miller called her over to him. “He wiped the lipstick off my face and said, ‘Now, look how pretty you are,’ ” she said, adding that he later said, “And if you look hard enough, you will find the rest of that skirt.”
“He saw the beauty inside each and every one of us,” she said.
Miller’s sister, Marie Burney, said their parents taught them the importance of setting high personal standards.
“My mama and my daddy demanded that we do our best,” she said.
Committed to community, learning
As a retiree, Miller made sure the community continued to support youth and schools, says the Rev. Sheldon Shipman, senior pastor of Greenville Memorial AME Zion.
In 2004, Miller moved to Kansas City to be closer to his son and to enjoy being a grandfather. He had been in failing health in recent months, including circulation problems resulting from frostbite to his feet he received in World War II, said his son, Skip Miller.
But that didn’t keep Pop Miller from wanting to learn new skills. His grandson, Chip Miller, recalled how one day last March, the pair were eating pizza, drinking Coke and listening to music on the younger Miller’s iPhone. Suddenly, Miller told his grandson that he wanted an iPhone. For the next hour, he listened intently as Chip Miller explained how to use the device.
“At 93 he still wanted to learn,” said Chip Miller. “He was still interested in being a part of the world.”