February 8, 2017

Don Miller was a ‘Hall of Famer’ in every way

      The ground shook on Feb. 1, and a gymnasium-size hole appeared in Wayne County’s world of sports.  Word spread quickly that Don Miller had died.  Our community has a legacy of producing gifted athletes, but few have been as multitalented as the four-sport star from Odum.  If Don’s tiny high school had dressed out a football team, no doubt the competitive lefty would have quarterbacked the Blue Jays.  Don could handle a ball, and his trophy shelf was testimony to that.  He was inducted into four different sports halls of fame.
      More than a half-century ago, I met Don in his other world—the one in which he wore a starched shirt and a silk necktie.  As a teenage boy in Jesup, along with thousands of others, I considered S&R Men’s Shop a mecca of style and sports talk.  It was a weekly stop—a place to see and be seen.  Athletes swarmed the Cherry Street establishment, knowing Jimmy Sullivan and Don Miller would pour on commentary and praise from your last game.
      Fresh out of Stetson University, Don came to S&R.  He didn’t leave until he closed the doors, retiring to grandpa duties and the golf course.  From the beginning, it was a perfect fit.  With Jimmy Sullivan, also a notable athlete, as his mentor, Don adopted the same unwavering commitment of supporting our sports programs.   As you tried on a pair of shoes or slacks, both men were masters at weaving sports into the conversation. You always felt better after each visit.  They set the gold standard for customer service.  You were proud to carry home one of their signature black shopping bags, emblazed in gold: S&R.
      It was there—191 W. Cherry St.—where I got to know Don in the early 1960s, first as a customer and later as a part-time employee.  My mother joked, “You would have paid Mr. Sullivan to work there.”  And I did, wearing my paychecks in the form of Gant shirts, Canterbury belts and Gold Cup socks.  That trend continued through high school and college.  For decades—from neck to toes—every piece of my attire was from what Don called “the store.” Don was more than my haberdasher.  He was my friend.
     Don was a groomsman in our wedding.  He hauled 10 tuxedos to the Hopeful Baptist Church on Aug. 23, 1969.  As Southwest Georgia farmers were creating clouds of dust with their peanut pickers, my buddies and I were poking black pearl studs in our stiff tux shirts. Four years later, I wore another S&R-rented tuxedo as a groomsman in his wedding to Jackie Hutcheson at Norwich Street Church of God in Brunswick. 
      After we moved to Athens, my wife always chuckled when a United Parcel Service package arrived from S&R.  “Don’t they sell clothes up here?” she’d tease.   “Yep,” I’d said.  “But Don and Herschel (Daniel) know my sizes and what I like.  It’s just easier this way.”  During Don’s memorial service, those who had bought clothes from Don were asked to stand.  Hundreds stood on the carpeted sanctuary floor of Unity Church of God.  I was among them, wearing the last suit Don had sold to me.
      Just as Don was a pillar in his community, he gave irreplaceable support to his church.  Unity’s gymnasium is named for Don and Jackie Miller. The sports whiz from Odum made a positive difference everywhere he walked during his 79 years.  That’s why his death shook us so.
      None of us was ready to give up our friend, but we all know where Don Miller was headed—Heaven’s Sports Hall of Fame.