Phil Miller believed in the power of kindness.
“I always said that if somebody came from outer space and hadn’t yet met any human beings and we should pick somebody, it would be Phil Miller,” said Balbir Mathur, founder of Trees for Life, an organization devoted to planting fruit trees in impoverished areas of the world.
“He was very unique.”
Mr. Miller, a former Wichita bank executive who, along with his wife, Kathy, joined Mathur as full-time volunteers, died April 22 after a long battle with a rare form of lymphoma. He died at the couple’s home in Leawood. He was 75.
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A celebration of life service will be at 10:30 a.m. May 9 at West Heights United Methodist Church, 745 N. Westlink.
Mr. Miller was born on July 1, 1939, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and grew up in Ottumwa.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in business from Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, Mr. Miller was working as a road salesman for Atlas Cement Co. when he transferred to Great Bend and began working an area in western Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
By the 1970s, he and his family were living in Wichita, and he was working in banking. At the height of his career in the 1990s, he was senior vice president and marketing director at Kansas State Bank and Trust.
Mr. Miller was actively involved in local groups and organizations. He helped champion the Q-line, Wichita’s trolley system; sang in the chorus at West Heights United Methodist Church; and was involved in Music Theatre Wichita, Botanica, Sales and Marketing Executives, Greater Downtown Wichita, the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum and the Wichita Street Railway Society.
After Kansas State Bank and Trust was sold, he became manager of Intrust’s east-side branch before his job was eliminated in the mid-1990s.
Not long after, he met Mathur.
When her husband first learned about Trees for Life, Kathy Miller said, he began talking about the world hunger issue with her, and he broke down in tears.
“He had picked me up after work that day, and we were headed to Newton,” Kathy Miller said. “He started crying, and I reached over and patted his heart and told him, ‘That’s your heart talking to you, and you better listen.’ ”
Mr. Miller stopped his search for another corporate job and instead became a full-time volunteer. The couple sold their home in the Amarado neighborhood near 13th and Maize Road and began working only for room, board and health insurance.
The couple volunteered seven years for Trees for Life and during that time lived in India for three years teaching and planting trees to feed and shelter the poor and hungry.
In 2003, the Millers moved to Matfield Green, where he helped provide leadership for establishing the first Symphony in the Flint Hills. At Matfield Green, Mr. Miller was actively involved in the Chase County Community Connection Trail, Pioneer Bluffs Historic Ranch and producing a community newsletter, “Matfield Matters!”
Five years ago, Mr. Miller was diagnosed with lymphoma. His illness was documented in e-mails and newsletters the couple sent to hundreds of friends.
“It was a fascinating journey filled with lots of prayers, love and light from everybody,” said Margalee Wright, a longtime friend of the Millers’. “He lived a life of loving kindness, and I think people who live that life should be remembered and their work should go on through all the lives they touched.”
Memorials have been established with Trees for Life, 3006 W. St. Louis, Wichita, KS 67203; and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, 300 N. Main, Suite 300, Wichita, KS 67202.