Harlem, Blaine County and all of the Hi-Line lost a dear friend last weekend when Vic Miller succumbed to complications from diabetes.
Most recently, Miller was chair of the Blaine County Commission, elected from the Harlem area.
A native of Harlem's north side, Miller held a special love for his hometown, and until the day he died he was dedicated to helping it.
He did so with a tremendous sense of dedication and a tremendous sense of humor.
For years, he served at Fort Belknap College, where he fought hard to give Native Americans an equal shot, a cause he supported for the rest of his life.
He was elected mayor of Harlem and served as executive director of Human Resources Development Council District 4, where he helped people in need from throughout the Hi-Line.
But he found his niche on the Blaine County Commission where friends recall he knew every line in the massive county budget, but he never forgot that those numbers all represented help for the people of his beloved county.
In recent years, he chaired the commission and oversaw emergency programs. Blaine County has been traumatized by floods and fires in recent months. In every case, even though his health was failing, Vic was on the scene, supporting emergency responders, reassuring residents and filling in reporters on the details. We always loved talking to him. He would provide the facts and always a good quote.
He was a tremendous musician. He was a percussionist — don't dare call him a drummer. He entertained people by the hundreds. He played music with folks who have gone on to other things. He once lost a trumpeter in his band. Jon Tester had to quit because he'd been elected to the U.S. Senate.
The only good thing about the terrible tragedy of his death is that it gave people an opportunity to look back and regale friends with Vic Miller stories — stories about his dedication to county government and public service, stories about the work he had accomplished and stories about his humor. Vic Miller was a lot of things, but above all, he was a character. He could laugh, he could ease the tension, and he could easily chat with political friends and foes.
Vic's abilities to reassure people would come in handy these days. It's been an awfully tough year for the good folks of Blaine County.
First, Coroner Marvin Edwards was killed when his plane crashed.
Then Undersheriff Pat Pyette died when he was hit by a car while directing traffic at an accident.
After Pyette's funeral, the Havre Daily News ran a touching photo of Vic saluting Pyette's flag-draped casket. Little did we know he would be Blaine County's next tragedy.
His tiny city of Harlem has had a rough time in recent years, as well.
It is isolated. It is having a hard time attracting jobs. There is plenty of poverty. A lot of young people are leaving because they can't find work.
For all its problems, it has been blessed with political leaders that have been able to make Harlem's case with powers-that-be.
For more than three decades, Francis Bardanouve of Harlem was chair of the Montana House Appropriations Committee. He fought hard for Montana as a whole, but always kept Harlem in the back of his mind.
Then Harlem had Vic Miller. he chaired the Montana Association of Counties, and was well known in Helena's halls of power.
Residents will gather in Harlem High School Saturday for a final farewell to Vic. Through their tears, we hope they will make a commitment to carry on his work.
Hill County Democratic Chair John Musgrove said that it will be easy to find someone to fill his office, but no one will ever be able to fill his shoes. Probably so.
But if the strong-willed people of Harlem can each take a piece of the commitment Vic Miller left behind, they can do the work he did to see that Harlem and Blaine County keep up the good fight.