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Blaine County Commissioner Vic Miller dies

Havre Daily News/File photo

Blaine County Commissioner and percussionist Vic Miller performs during the Rockin' the Hills fundraiser at the Great Northern Fairgrounds May 7, 2011. Miller died from complications of diabetes Friday night.

North-central Montanans and others throughout the state are mourning a man they called a good friend and a true public servant.

Blaine County Commissioner Vic Miller, 58, who had been fighting failing health for a long time, died Friday night at Benefis Hospital in Great Falls from complications from diabetes.

"You haven't got room enough in your paper to print all the good things I could say about him, " Art Kleinjan, deputy coordinator for Blaine County Disaster and Emergency Services and former Blaine County commissioner, said this morning. "He was a fine person to work with. He was just a great all-around guy. "

The death is the third of a public figure in Blaine County in just more than a year.

Marvin Edwards, the coroner and head of Edwards Funeral Home in Chinook, died in a plane crash in June 2011.

Then Blaine County Undersheriff Pat Pyette died in December when a driver hit him while he was directing traffic on U. S. Highway 2 east of Chinook.

Miller had been dealing with health problems for some time, after a lifetime of public service, ranging from serving in the U. S. Army to serving as executive director of District 4 Human Resources Development Council, from mayor of his hometown of Harlem to county commissioner.

"To me, Vic was a perfect example of a public servant, " Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said this morning. "He loved his job, he loved Blaine County, and he worked diligently to represent Blaine County and all the people who reside in Blaine County.

"He just was on top of every issue, and was so thoughtful when he would problem solve. He was a great problem solver, " Bessette added. "Plus he was a good friend. I didn't consider Vic a politician, I considered Vic a public servant who had … very good ideas. "

Kleinjan said that the needs of the people Miller served always came first, although he was active in politics outside of his office.

"He was a strong Democrat, but I never particularly seen him play politics in any of the work he had to do for the county, " Kleinjan said. "It didn't make any difference whether his constituents were Democrat or Republican. If they needed something done he done his best to get it done. "

Miller served as mayor of Harlem and was elected to the Blaine County Commission and served from January 1997 to December 2002. The county was reapportioned due to a lawsuit filed by the U. S. Department of Justice in an effort to give greater representation to the Native American population of the county, and he could not run for re-election at the end of that term.

He was re-elected in 2006, when the seat in his district came up for election again and was running unopposed for re-election this year.

Blaine County Commissioner Frank DePriest said this morning that the local government will be meeting at noon today to set the process to select Miller's replacement.

"This is a big loss for the people of Blaine County," DePriest said during an interview Saturday. "I don't know anybody who didn't know Vic Miller."

"When he walked into a room, everyone noticed he was there," he added.

DePriest said he learned a lot from Miller after his election two years ago.

"I relied on him," he said. "He taught me a lot."

One of the first to pay tribute to Miller was U. S. Sen. Jon Tester, who used to play in bands with Miller, a well-known Hi-Line musician.

"Vic Miller was a great friend who will be deeply missed, " Tester said in a release Saturday. "Vic believed in personal freedoms, standing up for Montana values, and most of all the value of friendship and public service. Vic ended all of his voicemail greetings by saying, 'I'm here to serve you. ' He spent a lifetime doing just that, making Harlem a better community, Blaine a better county, and Montana a better state. "

Tester quoted Miller in the release, saying Miller used to say that when Tester won his seat in the U. S. Senate in 2006, he "lost a trumpet player, but gained a senator. "

Havre City Council Alderman Allen "Woody" Woodwick also played with Miller — who corrected anyone who called him a drummer, saying he was a percussionist — in the band Blind Luck, before Miller's health precluded his continuing to perform.

"He was a fantastic musician with a ton of experience and the whole musical community is going to sorely miss him, " Woodwick said this morning. "And he was also politically, he was very sharp, very astute, but he would approach it with humor. There was times he would use a lot of humor to get his point across, but then he would stop and make you think.

"I learned a lot from him, both musically and politically, " Woodwick added.

Former State Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, chair of the Hill County Democrats, represented both Hill and Blaine counties when when he was in the Montana Legislature.

"I'm really saddened by it, " he said about Miller's death. "I find it hard to talk about it. "

Musgrove said Miller was an expert in every part of the Blaine County and Montana state budgets, yet he remained a people person.

"We will be able to find somebody to take his role, " Musgrove said. "But we will never replace him. " Hill County Republican Chair Andrew Brekke said he and his family, also from Harlem, have been longtime friends with Miller and his family.

"We've been close friends forever, " Brekke said. "This is very sad. "

Many commented on Miller being a people person, making friends wherever he went.

Bessette, who served with Miller on many committees and commissions locally, across the state and nationally for the National Association of Counties, said she saw that wherever he went.

"There's millions of stories, there are millions and millions of stories, " she said. "Everybody has a Vic Miller story. … He made friends with people from all over, when we could go to NACO in D. C., or wherever the meeting was, he just made friends so easily and everybody liked him, thought the world of him.

"He had a heart of gold, " Bessette added.

"He was very, very dedicated," DePriest said. "Dedicated as a commissioner, as a musician at everything he did."

"He will be tough to replace, " Kleinjan said.


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