Late IMSE professor emeritus Miller leaves a lasting legacy
Owen Miller was a kind and valued educator, mentor and co-worker.
Miller, who died Nov. 26 in Kansas City, Mo., at age 92, joined the University of Missouri faculty as an assistant professor in the Industrial Engineering Department in 1964, working his way up to full professor before his retirement in 1992 as a professor emeritus, continuing his involvement with the university and the Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Department even after his retirement.
Miller served as director of the industrial engineering graduate studies program while on the faculty at MU, as well as interim director of engineering extension and director of the college’s Business and Industry Center. He also was active in applying industrial engineering techniques to the field of health care, even serving as an associate scientist at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Research Center.
Prior to coming to MU, Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering in 1950, a master’s in 1958 and a doctorate in 1966, all from Washington University in St. Louis, which he attended with help from the G.I. Bill after serving in the Pacific Theater in World War II as a member of the U.S. Army signal corps.
And there were plenty more highlights in Miller’s long and illustrious career. Needless to say, Miller kept himself plenty busy.
“When I joined here in 1987, he was on the search committee and was the person showing me around,” said Luis Occeña, IMSE Department chair and associate professor.
“I learned that he was involved in setting up the ICUs at the university hospital here in the early days, and that he was a major player in the Regional Health Care Program, which was a major grant at the time.”
IMSE professor Jim Noble called Miller a “mentor,” owing to Miller’s helping hand when Noble was hired at MU in 1992. He added that Miller was instrumental in helping ease his transition into taking over the capstone design course he inherited from Miller.
“He really went out of his way to help and gave me all his contacts. He knew pretty much every small business in mid-Missouri,” Noble said. “He also helped me set up a research project at 3M the first year I was here. He was always one that wanted to help everybody.”
And, Noble said, Miller’s affable nature was part of what made him so endearing.
“The funny story I tell people a lot, it was my 30th birthday — we always celebrate birthdays in the department — and he said, ‘Jim, I have shoes older than you are,’” Noble added, laughing.
Miller was a visible presence outside of the classroom, too. He consulted for more than 300 clients during the 1980s under economic development and small business development contracts and was named Fellow by the American Society for Quality Control. He was involved in volunteer efforts with the Cosmopolitan Luncheon Club, Missouri United Methodist Church choir, AARP, the Columbia Senior Center, the Show Me State Games and the Salvation Army and was an avid and award-winning gymnast.
“He was just extremely generous in helping everyone,” Noble said. “You’d always see him in the Memorial Day parades on the Cosmo float, even after he retired.”
The St. Louis native earned several distinguished honors during and after his career. Miller was an honorary member of the inaugural class of MU’s IMSE Hall of Fame in 2008, alongside honors from Tau Beta Pi, Alpha Pi Mu and Society Sigma Xi. He also was tabbed an outstanding Industrial Engineering professor by graduating students on multiple occasions.
Miller is survived by his wife, Betty, three children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.