The loss of James Miller leaves ripples of remembrance
James’ personality made the difference, making ordinary interactions memorable.

When a beloved figure dies, colleagues, family, and friends search typically to find the appropriate words among a well-worn but serviceable list: Loyal, consistent, selfless, devoted, agreeable, or kind. They would give the shirt off their back. Their smiles lit up the room.

For James Miller, who died Tuesday (5/21/24) at 48, those closest have to search and strain.

So, to describe him, most end up defaulting to his actions: Coaching his sons’ baseball teams as cancer sapped his strength. It’s true he smiled often, but it was the kind of smile that drew the warmth and mirth in others. His generosity expressed itself less in lavish gifts as in his complete presence, in the service of clients or colleagues, his wife and children or other people’s kids, whoever he was with at the time.

That’s what makes his absence so hard now.

He was so agreeable, he counted minor discrepancies as small stuff, not to be sweated — even his name.

“People called him James, Jimmy or Jim,” said longtime friend Ken Granger, 50. “He would never correct you. He was always making sure you were comfortable.”

People wanted to be around Miller because he could lift the mood of an entire group, whether with his frequent jokes or deadly three-point shooting in pickup basketball games. He wanted to be around them too, so much so that he managed to function for seven years despite colorectal cancer that hospitalized him 10 times in 2023 alone.

“We are grieving the loss of a remarkable colleague and dear friend,” said Jenna Tala, who heads strategy and external affairs for the Florida League of Cities, where Miller served as associate director of communications. “James was the epitome of dedication and a beacon of positivity for our team. He poured his heart and soul into everything he did. James never missed the opportunity to tell a joke, and we laughed together every single day. Colleagues went out of their way to express what a joy he was to work alongside.”

By all accounts, his highest priority and focus was his wife, Angela, and sons, CJ and Riley, ages 12 and 10. He tuned in to sports events on multiple television screens and drew others in with the untiring enthusiasm of the perennial sports fan, especially for the Florida State Seminoles.

For years, Angela Miller shared an appreciation with her husband for tailgating FSU games “before we got too old.”

“I have a newfound love for women’s basketball, and Caitlin Clark thanks to him,” she said.

James Peter Miller was born on March 2, 1976, in Winter Park. He graduated from FSU in 1998 with a degree in sports management and communications, and spent the next 25 years gaining expertise in sports media and the state of Florida, including serving as a deputy communications chief from 2011 to 2013.

He moved to the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, which he helped rebrand with a series of marketing materials as a communications vice president. That led to a senior director position at the Florida Retail Federation, where chief executive officer R. Scott Shalley called Miller “one of the most effective and influential marketing communicators around.”

Samantha Padgett, the federation’s general counsel at the time, won’t forget doing daily video updates during legislative sessions for FRF’s membership.

“Somebody has got to have a great blooper reel somewhere,” said Padgett, who is now a lobbying and general counsel for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “To get a laugh out if that made it interesting and unique.”

James’ personality made the difference, making ordinary interactions memorable. Padgett said it was not unusual for multiple men to consider him their best friend and all of them were correct.

“He had a wonderful and natural way of connecting with everybody and making people feel welcome and special,” she said. “He had a great sense of humor, always welcoming people with a warm smile that caused other people to smile.”

That ability extended to children, including Padgett’s son whose first Little League team had James as its coach.

Miller was equally faithful to a group of friends from his college days. They celebrated their camaraderie in 1998 with a weekend cruise to the Bahamas. It was such a good time that they started booking the same cruise the next Summer and every Summer after that.

Miller brought up the subject when he and Angela were dating: “He told me, ‘OK, so I go on these cruises with my buddies. And I’m always going to go on these cruises with my buddies. And if you have a problem with it, it’s a dealbreaker.’”

They married on March 20, 2010, the first day of Spring, in Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park.

Miller’s diagnosis came in 2017, followed by multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. Deprived of his company that summer, the buddies settled on the next best thing — a life-size cardboard and plastic cutout. Miller cooperated by coming to a photo shoot, resulting in a high-resolution, 6-foot-4 likeness with movable arms.

“We took it everywhere around the ship with us,” said Granger, who is now a government affairs specialist for Capital City Consulting.

Throughout it all, Miller remained resolute that he would conquer the disease. On some ways he did, simply by moving on as if it were not an obstacle. He resumed his work schedule, and in 2019 moved to the Florida League of Cities, where he led communications, education, and marketing efforts.

In the Fall of 2021, the cancer went into an apparent remission. Angela, a senior sales representative for Coton Colors, was able to travel extensively. His symptoms returned in 2022, but he attended CJ’s football and baseball games and Riley’s soccer games.

“He never missed a game, no matter how sick he was,” his wife said. “Even if he was hooked up to chemo.”

Miller had been hospitalized for the last few months. For the family’s benefit, his wife credits a wide network of friends, some of whom traveled long distances to visit. From there, he moved to the First Commerce Center for Compassionate Care, a hospice wing within Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.

Before they visited him there on Mother’s Day, Angela took an important step with the boys: Using the word “die.”

“Before that, I would say he had a limited time left, that he has days or weeks,” she recalled. “But on Mother’s Day, I said it. I said, ‘Dad is not coming home. He is going to die here.”

It had been his wish, after all, that his illness would not interfere with their lives.

And that is what happened. The boys told their dad about their recent contests. They laughed together and encouraged each other.

It was a great visit.

James Peter Miller

Born: March 2, 1976.

Died: May 21, 2024.

Survivors: His wife, Angela; sons, Casey (“CJ”) and Riley; mother, Sharon Miller; father, Lloyd Miller and his wife, Susan; and a brother, Darby Miller, his wife, Serena. and their son, Kieran.

Celebration of life: Plans are underway for a gathering in the fall.

Andrew Meacham

Andrew Meacham is a writer living in St. Petersburg. He worked for the Tampa Bay Times for 14 years, retiring in December 2018 as a performing arts critic. You can contact Andrew at [email protected].


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