Pam Miller was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1938. She graduated magna cum laude from Smith College in 1960, having majored in history. Two years later, she married Ralph Miller, a physician and former Olympic skier. In 1970, Pam, Ralph, and their three small children moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where Ralph became a professor at the University of Kentucky. By 1974, Pam Miller had become the first woman to serve on the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council, and in 1993, she was the first woman to be elected mayor of Lexington. Since her 2003 retirement from city hall, Miller has served on and chaired the boards of the Prichard Committee; OperaLex (formerly the Opera Society); and the Council for Postsecondary Education.
On May 9, the Prichard Committee hosted a reception in honor of Pam’s contribution as an education advocate prior to the Millers’ move to Massachusetts.
Look into the history of many of Lexington’s signature programs and institutions, and you’re likely to find Pam Miller’s name somewhere close to the roots. The Lexington Farmer’s Market; Partners for Youth; the Rosie recycling program; the Lexington Children’s Museum; the Downtown Arts Center; the Kentucky Theater; the Purchase of Development Rights program, which protects prime Bluegrass farmland in perpetuity: Miller has played a crucial role in the existence of them all.
Miller arrived in the Bluegrass State in 1970, she had no ambition to change Lexington’s culture and landscape. She was a young mother of three, and despite having worked for The Congressional Quarterly in Washington, DC, and for an anti-poverty program in Boston, she had not given much thought to her future career. Her community involvement in Lexington, initially, was for “selfish” reasons: grocery store produce was meager, so she organized the city’s first farmer’s market; sanitary sewers were backing up into her yard, so she ran for city council to help find a solution.
Of course, she was aware that what benefitted her family could also benefit her community, and vice versa. As the mother of three children, it’s not surprising that many of the needs she witnessed in her new home state related to education. In 1979, Miller was appointed to the Prichard Committee on Higher Education in Kentucky’s Future, the organization that later became the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. The committee’s conversations on the state of education in Kentucky, Miller says, were life changing, and her ongoing involvement with the committee during her years of public service gave her “great perspective and insight into the problems with public education in Kentucky.”
As Prichard Committee founding chair Ed Prichard was famous for saying, “Education begins in the womb, and ends in the tomb.” As Mayor, Pam Miller remembered these words, and acted upon them.
“I really didn’t have a lot of control over the public school system,” she says, “but I always wanted to give kids extra opportunities for learning outside of the regular school day.” Miller created after-school programs and summer programs for children; initiated the creation of the Lexington Children’s Museum; and improved Lexington’s parks and greenspaces.
After retiring as mayor, Miller became more active with the Prichard Committee, serving as chair from 2006-2010. A key issue during those years, she says, was getting the legislature and public to continue backing the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.
In 2017, Pam and Ralph Miller will be moving to Lexington, Massachusetts, where they will be closer to children and grandchildren. They will be missed. Pam Miller’s impact on Kentucky’s landscape and culture, however, will be evident for countless years to come.
This Retrospective of Prichard Committee charter member Pam Miller is based on a series of oral history interviews conducted with Miller from 2014 to 2015. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence Oral History Project, a joint project of the Prichard Committee and the University of Kentucky, was established in 2013 to explore and preserve the rich history of the Prichard Committee and its citizen leaders in education. The interviews may be accessed via the University of Kentucky’s oral history database: https://kentuckyoralhistory.org