Remembering Robert (Bobby) E. Miller, Local Hero and Longtime Champion of Champlain College

The everywhere-adored lifetime benefactor of Champlain College, Robert (Bobby) E. Miller, and his wife Holly, changed a multitude of lives and helped transform Champlain College into the innovative, award-winning institution we know today.

On Tuesday, February 4, Mr. Miller died of a heart attack at the age of 84. He will be missed, and will forever remain a special and beloved part of the Champlain community.

“Mr. Miller was a visionary philanthropist whose unassuming manner, cheerful smile, and exceptional generosity had a positive impact on countless important efforts to make life better in our state,” says Interim President Dr. Laurie Quinn. “His wife, Holly, who served as a former Chair of the Champlain College Board of Trustees, is a remarkable woman who, together with her husband, helped Champlain College exceed our aspirations over many years.”

From right to left: Robert E. Miller, Holly Miller, and Jared Knepper, ’19 // Management & Innovation, at a fundraising event on campus.

Mr. and Mrs. Miller have been leading supporters—as volunteers and benefactors—of many Vermont organizations, including the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center, UVM Health Network Home Health & Hospice (formerly the Visiting Nurse Association), the McClure Miller Respite House, Champlain Valley Exposition, King Street Youth Center, and the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. They helped Burlington grow into one of the greatest cities in the country, and poured their time and resources into helping disadvantaged children, people at the end of their lives, and inquisitive students, like the ones at Champlain, launch their careers.

The Millers played an essential role—through their gifts of time, energy, and resources—in helping Champlain College grow into a nationally recognized, four-year institution. In the first decade of this century, widespread innovations were made across campus and to our education model thanks to the largest fundraising effort in the College’s history. Mr. and Mrs. Miller were an integral part of these initiatives and our community. They served countless hours on trustee and campaign committees to ensure Champlain offers relevant, effective, and cutting-edge educational programs. Mr. Miller also sat on Champlain’s Board Facilities Committee and lent his expertise and construction management skills to the College during this period of tremendous growth.

The Millers extraordinary commitment to young people and education stemmed from their belief that every young person deserves the best childhood possible and the opportunity to reach their potential.

Robert and Holly Miller on campus in October 1996. The Millers jointly received Champlain College’s Distinguished Citizen Award in the same year. Photo by Glenn Russell.

Two of Champlain’s most impressive buildings bear Mr. Miller’s name. The Robert E. & Holly D. Miller Information Commons was built in 1998 at the top of campus to contain Champlain’s state-of-the-art library. In 2012, it won the Excellence in Academic Libraries Award from the Association of College and Research Libraries. It also offers some of the most spectacular views in the region of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. The Miller Center at Lakeside was built in 2011 in Burlington’s Lakeside neighborhood, and houses Champlain’s Emergent Media Center and The Leahy Center for Digital Forensics & Cybersecurity.

Students collaborate in the Vista Room on top of floor of Champlain’s Robert E. & Holly D. Miller Information Center. Photo by Logan Hall-Potvin ’19 // Hall-Potvin Photography.

“Bob always said, ‘When you have Holly on your Board, you get both of us.’ And true to his word he was generous with his advice, expertise, and investments during a time of exponential growth at Champlain,” says Shelley Richardson, former Vice President for Advancement from 1992–2016. “I was new to fundraising work in the 90s, and Bob and Holly led the way generously in my first campaign to build the Miller Information Commons. He continued to lead and offer challenge gifts, serve on facilities committees, and even built us a space to grow into down off Pine Street decades later. He was always at the other end of his cellphone whenever you called, no matter how busy.”

Mr. Miller, who grew up poor in Rutland, Vermont, was initially drawn to Champlain’s “no-nonsense, career-focused education” as he called it. A self-made man who, he once said, “never had the means to get an education,” built one of Vermont’s largest commercial leasing and development firms, R.E.M. Development, from the ground up in 1984. Mr. Miller, along with his wife Holly, then dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others, along with their beloved state of Vermont.

“One of Bobby’s most endearing qualities is how he treated people who work in the building trades. He embraced them, knew what they had to do to get the job done, supported them, and always showed his deep appreciation for their work,” says Mark R. Neagley, Champlain Trustee Emeritus and President of Neagley & Chase Construction Co. “His voice on the Facilities Committee was an invaluable part of creating the extraordinary campus that exists today. He will be missed by all but never forgotten.”

“I’ve never met a more humble, down-to-earth, hands-on philanthropist than Bob Miller,” says Shelley Richardson. “I shall miss his can-do attitude, his charming smile, and the twinkle in his eyes.”

Champlain is the college it is today thanks in no small part to the generosity and vision of this tremendously kind and passionate Vermonter. Mr. Miller’s legacy will be simple and powerful. The world is a better place because he was here. Champlain College is living proof.

A Celebration of Life for Mr. Miller will be held on Wednesday, February 12, at 11:00 AM at the Robert E. Miller Expo Center in Essex Junction.

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