Editor’s Note: Many of these were shared on the leadership list and/or via email.
As a boss, Oral was easy to work for because there was never any doubt as to his priorities. The issue was always what would be best for blind people. It was never about national politics, organization competition, or monetizing opportunities. He just wanted to make it possible and accessible for blind and visually impaired people of all backgrounds and abilities to pursue their dreams and thrive.
Oral’s advocacy is likely what most of us in the blind and visually impaired community will remember about him. However, Oral should also be remembered for the positive effect he had on sighted people and their perceptions of blindness everywhere he went. Oral just naturally moved through the world in a friendly, dignified way, open to the curiosity of sighted people about blindness. He would always oblige their queries with respect and a dash of humor, leaving the inquirer lifted, enlightened, and with a more positive view of blindness.
Oral left the world friendlier and more accessible for every blind person who comes behind him. Rest in peace, my friend and mentor.
I attended my first national convention in 1981. In that year, Oral ended his term as ACB president and began working as the organization’s executive director, a position which he held for many years.
Oral represented all of the very best of ACB: he believed in blind people and advocated for positive change, he believed that negotiation did not need to be contentious and that it should always start by finding common ground. He believed that everyone had a unique gift to offer that must be celebrated and cherished. As a leader, he saw his job as bringing out the very best in others rather than flaunting his power.
I was thrilled to be in the room when he received the Migel Medal, the highest award in the blindness field. By that time, cognitive difficulties were evident as he gave a rather long and rambling speech. As I listened, I kept thinking that many of the other people listening would never know just how deserving Oral was of receiving that honor.
I am honored to have known him and I hope I have lived up to his expectations of what I could become. If there is an afterlife, I hope he and Roberta are having a wonderful reunion with lots of love and laughter.
I first met Oral Miller in Austin, Texas at the ACB of Texas convention in 1982 at the Austin Hotel, with Margaret Sanderfer as president. That was my first real experience with a state convention. Then that year I also went to the national ACB convention, and did braille on the room doors and vending machines. If I ever felt like stopping making accessibility, Mr. Miller would not let me stop. We exchanged for years many braille stories and notes. Mr. Miller could always find a blind person for me when I was traveling from state to state, bank to bank to make ATMs accessible, to get the word out in the community, or doing braille trails, or braille brochures and large print brochures for banks throughout the USA and other countries. What a great person to accomplish what he did and also help others — blind or not — accomplish. He was there to help all. Always ending all with “Taxation Without Representation.”
I have never known a person who had the incredible combination of intelligence, talent in diverse areas, kindness, and humility that Oral had.
Time sure passes! I met Oral on several occasions over the years, including him being so welcoming to myself and Michael Simpson, the President of Blind Citizens Australia, at my very first ACB convention in Los Angeles in 1999. It’s hard to believe that’s just over 24 years ago.
I recall like it was yesterday the blow Oral had with his wife Roberta’s rapid death from what I understand was a nasty virus caught on an overseas trip they took together.
In the early 2000s Oral was in Australia — I am not sure if it was the 2000 Paralympics or another sports-related event — but I and a friend (Michael Simpson, who I was with at that convention) took him by train to a western suburb of Sydney to meet for dinner, when Oral had been so welcoming towards us. I was so keen to give him the experience of Sydney transport, but ended up showing him about Sydney train disruptions.
This is sad news, but I’m glad to have spent some time with him.
Shortly after I began my first year at Cornell Law School in August 1976, a classmate mentioned that he’d worked at the Federal Small Business Administration during the summer with a blind lawyer named Oral Miller; he gave me Oral’s phone number, and I called him. Oral talked with me and introduced me to what was then called the American Blind Lawyers Association, now the American Association of Visually Impaired Attorneys, and I joined as a student member. What a great man!
I can just hear him saying “land of taxation without representation!” He always called me Janice Joplin Dickelman.
As with Janet, I had a nickname! I was Pablo! Oral is an important part of our history, and his passing leaves a gap that cannot easily be filled. He was not only a president of ACB but also worked as our national representative and executive director longer anyone else has! I am not sure Oral was finding life much fun over the past couple of years. Now he is at peace!
I’ve been with ACB so long that I remember when he was executive director and LeRoy Saunders from Oklahoma was president. And if memory serves correctly, he was responsible for the implementation of the Recreation Zone at various national conventions.
I likewise remember that time as 1993 was my first convention. I also remember 1998 when he retired as executive director. He was honored at the banquet that year and given many gifts. One was a gun, as I recall. We were in Orlando that year.
At the banquet Karyn mentions, one of his gifts was a trip to Vienna, Austria. I remember contributing a can of Vienna sausages to the presentation. Oral was asked to taste what was in the can, and then guess what the gift was. Janiece Petersen also wrote, played, and sang an original song about Oral, and she also accompanied me on a parody I wrote to the words of “Big Bad John,” and that I called “Big Oral.” … I remember that they complimented him on many serious accomplishments, but also acknowledged his love of a good bourbon.
I remember that banquet well too. I remember being very touched by the remarks offered by Nolan Crabb, with whom Oral enjoyed a deep friendship. I think Janiece’s song was entitled something like “The Ladder of Life,” and it would be very nice to see if we can find a recording of it and the rest of the evening. I also remember then-president Paul Edwards and Pam Shaw putting me up to doing a brief parody of Oral Miller teaching his staff, which included yours truly from fall of 1996 through spring of 1998, how to use the office voice mail system. People were kind enough to laugh, but it was so true. Oral had a meticulous and exhaustively methodical didactic side where he would literally tell you to first pick up the receiver from the phone, wait for a certain tone, press this button first, followed by the second button and the third and the fourth and so on and so on, instructions that even included being sure to pay careful attention to each voice message retrieved and to take a few moments to consider whether taking down a note or two to capture the content of particulars in each message might have some utility. Mind you, all of these lessons on how to use the voice mail system were made available to the staff only within the voice mail system itself. LOL. Anyhow, Oral was so very gracious but also so very clever and funny. When it came time for Oral to get up toward the end of the evening to offer remarks of his own and to thank each of the folks who participated that night, when he got to me, Oral remarked that I was a very good student of his voice mail tutorials and that given the limits of my ability, he was nevertheless impressed that I eventually caught on after only 14 lessons. Touche, and so quick and fun. Oral, the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.
I met Oral back in the ‘70s at a bowling tournament. He was president of ACB at the time. He resigned the presidency to become ACB’s national representative. The title of that job later was changed to executive director. I have lots of memories of Oral. He was a true ambassador. He’d strike up a conversation with anybody, no matter where he was, and I suspect he’s already made new friends up there and has found his wife Roberta Douglas and many of his old friends.
What a tremendous loss! Oral was a strong advocate for and user of audio description. He was a seasoned world traveler and quickly became an important resource to me as I would present on AD abroad.
A special memory — it was my great honor to provide audio description for him personally at Ed Walker’s funeral here in the D.C. area.
Rest in peace, Oral.