Francis Pickens Miller, 83, one of the grand old men of Virginia politics, who was the leading antiorganization Democrat of his day and the father of Democratic senatorial candidate Andre P. Miller, died Thursday in Norfolk.
A member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1938 to 1941. Col. Miller returned from World War II service in Europe with the rank of Army colonel to challenge the Byrd organization in a contest for governor in 1949 and then ran against Harry F. Byrd Sr. in a Senate race in 1952.
Col. Miller died at Norfolk General Hospital where he had been under treatment for a stroke he suffered June 23 at his home in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
The stroke came nearly two weeks after Col. Miller and his wife Helen had watched the state Democratic convention at Williamsburg nominate their son for the Senate.
It was Col. Miller's last public appearance and it was a dramatic one.
After the younger Miller came to the rostrum to accept the nomination,he held out his hand toward his parents in the gallery, saying: "They fought the good fight in politics."
In particular, the campaign Col. Miller waged in 1949 for the gubernatorial nomination against the organization and the organization's candidate, John S. Battle, was waged with the moral fervor of a holy crusade.
The son and grandson of Presbyterian clergyman, Col. Miller, in his public statements, invoked his state's proud political and aristocratic traditions in calling his campaign part of an irresistible movement to restore Virginia's government to the people in "the new act in our common glory."
Since his return from the war, he said, the "most terrible conditions" he had found were that "men who are Virginians are shy about expressing their opinions."
He attributed this to the strength of the "Byrd organization, the most powerful and ruthless machine in the United States."
In one of his last speeches before the Aug. 2 primary, he issued this exhortation: "If you are aware of our glorious heritage of freedom, if you want to set Virginia free from the Byrd machine, if you want us as Virginians to get back on the road our fathers blazed for us and build the kind of Virginia they hoped we would build, then vote for Francis Miller."
It was the proud rhetoric of a descendant of a Revolutionary soldier, of a man who was a Rhodes scholar and had served in both World Wars. But it was not universally popular. Although he amassed 110,000 votes, he was 24,000 votes short of victory.
In some parts of the state, hostility to him was overt and manifest. Helen Miller can recall Andrew P. Miller and his brother, Robert, being chased from some stores in Fairfax when they asked permission to hang one of their father's posters.
In the 1952 senatorial primary against Sen. Byrd, Col. Miller had little expectation of winning.
He received 129,000 votes to 216,000 for Byrd. He said later, in what appeared to be a partial explanation for his willingness to make the seemingly futile race: "A campaign is the most educational thing in the world in arousing people's concerns."
Some of the delegates at the Williamsburg convention two months ago may have recalled such statements when they rose to give an ovation to Col. Miller and his wife.
Smiling, the colonel struggled to his feet, waved to the applauding crowd and blew a kiss to his son Andrew and his wife on the platform.
Col. Miller was born in Middlesboro, Ky., just across the Virginia border, and was reared in Rockbridge County, Va. After graduating from Washington and Lee University and serving in the field artillery in Europe in World War I, he attended Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar.
From 1923 to 1938 he served as chairman of the World's Student Christian Federation.
As a member of the House of Delegates from Fairfax County from 1938 to 1941 he was known as a spokesman for Virginia's then antiorganization governor, James H. Price.
During the same period, he established a reputation as an internationalist, speaking out strongly against Hitler and in favor of aid to Britain.
Col. Miller lived for many years in a large stone farmhouse near the northern edge of what is now Fairfax City. He moved to Charlottesville about 30 years ago, and subsequently lived in Washington before moving to Kitty Hawk.