Newport News state Sen. John Miller dies

State Sen. John Miller, a General Assembly stalwart for public education and election reform, died suddenly Monday, his family said.

The three-term senator died just a few weeks after convincing the legislature to embark on a sweeping reform of high school education in Virginia that he hoped would open new opportunities for the young Virginians he cared so much about.

“Senator John Miller passed away unexpectedly this morning. While our hearts our broken at the loss of this phenomenal man, they are also full of pride for his life of accomplishments that helped better the lives of so many others,” family spokesman Doug Carper said.

Miller, D-Newport News, was 68.

His prime focus in the state Senate was on education, an effort capped with this year’s high school reform legislation.

It was a focus rooted in his deep love for his family, said his friend of four decades, Christopher Newport University President Paul S. Trible Jr.

“He really loved his family, he took so much pride in them.… He had a very special partnership with the love of his life, (his wife) Sharron,” Trible said. “I think that’s where that passion for education and health of young people came from.”

Miller’s high school reform will emphasize development of core skills in the first years of high school and set up multiple paths to college or the workplace, including opportunities for real work experience and obtaining occupational credentials.

This year, Miller also finally won approval for a years-long effort to require time for physical activity for students, to attack the national epidemic of childhood obesity.

“He was really concerned about the lack of activity at school — childhood obesity was something he was really committed to doing something about. He wanted young people to have what we had growing up,” state Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, said.

Battling year after year for causes he believed in was typical of him, she added.

In addition to his efforts in education, Miller fought to convince the General Assembly of the need for independent, nonpartisan redistricting and to crack down on predatory lending. But he had more success with his argument that the state had too many Standards of Learning tests for elementary school pupils

“Senator Miller was a role model to us all, showing us that kindness and compassion have a place in politics. I will miss him every day,” said Del. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, who represented part of Miller’s Senate district.

Mason said Miller was the rare politician who gave time and help to newcomers, like himself, as they entered public life.

“He had a clear vision of the challenges facing Virginia, and he put forward clear goals for reaching solutions on issues ranging from climate change to redistricting reform,” said Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Miller took pride in his efforts to work across the partisan divide, including helping to found the bipartisan Commonwealth Caucus, a group of two Democratic and two Republican senators who focused on such key issues as redistricting, judicial elections and protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

“A kind and genuine man.… His decades of service in Hampton Roads as a journalist, an elected official and community leader have made Virginia a better place,” said one of the founders of that caucus, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.

“I don’t think there was a person from either party who disliked him,” Newport News Mayor McKinley Price said.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, R-James City, said Miller’s untimely passing was a great loss to the Senate and the state.

“John was a tireless advocate for education and for Virginia’s public schools. He was also a staunch defender of the interests of the Peninsula and of the people of the 1st Senatorial District,” Norment said.

Elected in 2007, Miller handily won re-election in 2011 and 2015, in a district that included parts of Newport News, Hampton, York County, James City County and all of Williamsburg.

“The Senate is deeply saddened by the loss of a man who cared so deeply about issues,” said Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar. “We will miss him.”

Miller was a television journalist at WVEC-TV for 18 years, and in the 1980s was a top aide to then Sen. Paul Trible. He also was a senior administrator at public broadcasting station WHRO and at Christopher Newport University.

His work in the community has included service on the board of Smart Beginnings of the Virginia Peninsula and as a member of People to People, a group dedicated to improving race relations in Newport News. He also served on the board of Peninsula READS – the Literacy Council, the FoodBank of the Virginia Peninsula, the Newport News Youth Commission, Alternatives, the Newport News YMCA, the Junior League of Hampton Roads Advisory Board, the Downtown Hampton Child Development Center, The Newport News Alliance for Youth and Hampton Bay Days..

He is survived by his wife, Sharron, a daughter, Jenny, and a son, John, both of whom are married.

The funeral will be Friday, April 8, with a service at First Baptist Church, Denbigh, at 11 a.m.

The family will receive friends on Thursday, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Weymouth Funeral Home.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation or Peninsula READS.

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