Anthony Bertram Miller
Minister of Congregational Church of Austin: July 1, 1950- Fall, 1956
Anthony Bertram Miller was born July 15, 1926 in New Haven, CT to Rev. Ray Marcus and Mary E. Crum Miller. He was one of five children, Julia F., Anthony B., Richard C., Mary J. and Marthjean. His father, born 1896 in Belmore, Ohio, was a Congregational minister. His parents were married in 1924. For the first ten years, Bert and his family lived in Redfield, Spink, South Dakota. Bert’s grandfather and namesake, Anthony Miller, was born 1849 in Bremen, Germany. He came to the US in 1872. He is shown at right. He died 1923, a few years before Bert was born.
In 1944, Bert graduated from high school in Meriden, CT as valedictorian. He attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, as part of the Navy’s V12 program. His plan was to be a Navy chaplain. In June of 1946, he was transferred to the NROTC Program at Harvard to be trained as a deck officer. He used this as an opportunity to earn a Harvard degree. He completed his AB in philosophy in June 1947. His thesis was entitled, “The Conflict Between Egoism and Altruism.”
At Harvard Bert roomed with Richard Reinhold Niebuhr, the son of H. Richard Niebuhr. H. Richard Niebuhr was Bert’s mentor at Yale Divinity School. Bert said, “ I learned most of what I know about ethics from Professor Niebuhr. Bert’s suite mate at Harvard was Bobby Kennedy.
Rev. A. Bertram Miller arrived in Austin on July 1, 1950, after graduating from Yale Divinity School with a B. D. He lived for short time in the old parsonage adjacent to the church. The previous minister family chose not to live there because of noise and disruptions from fraternities and sororities. A new parsonage had been built on a lot donated by J.M. Kuehne and the Millers were its first occupants. It was located on McCandless Street. The Lutheran Campus Ministry began in the old parsonage beside the church, but the building was later used for a child care establishment.
The summer before Bert finished his degree at Yale, he served a summer internship as student pastor at the Congregational Church of Coral Gables, Florida. It was there he met a beautiful member of the choir, Mary Margaret Robarts. Mary Margaret had graduated in 1947 in sociology from Maryville College and had done graduate work at Florida State University. They remained in contact and were married on December 30, 1950 at the Coral Gables Church. Bert’s father, Rev. Ray Marcus Miller, pastor of the Center Congregational Church in Meriden, CT, performed the service, assisted by Rev. Fred E. Cole, Pastor of the Coral Gables Church.
Mary Margaret was born September 25, 1925 in Lake City, FL to George Andrew. Lites and Frances Elizabeth Engle Robarts. Mary Margaret’s brother married Bert’s sister. Bert and Mary Margaret’s daughter, Elizabeth Ann Miller (Nestler), was born January 14, 1959. Mary Margaret was a public school teacher.
Rev. Miller taught at Huston-Tillotson College for a year while serving as pastor. He was Executive Secretary to the Austin Council of Churches. This was a time when the Civil Rights Movements was beginning to stir and Bert was very active in furthering the cause. The University of Texas each year had a Religious Emphasis Week. It had always been segregated. Bert invited Rev. Nicholas Hood, a Yale Divinity School classmate and minister from New Orleans, to participate. Rev. Hood went on to help found the Southern Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King. He was a minister in Detroit and served on the City Council there for many years. He also developed low income housing in Detroit.
There was a church camp in Ardmore, Oklahoma, that children from the church attended. Bert arranged for children from Rev. Hood’s church in New Orleans to join with his church’s children and attend. They were successful, though there was tension at the camp.
Each year there was a group of Congregational ministers that met in Dallas each year. Bert invited a black minister from a large church in Houston. He recalled that the meetings were cancelled after that. He also invited the black ministers in Austin to join the Austin Council of Churches. he received support from the ministers in the area.
It was during Bert’s tenure that the first full black member of the church joined. She was Evelyn Demetta Moore, a student at Huston-Tillitson and also the daughter of Rev. John and Frankie Moore. John was the pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church in Houston, Texas.
Bert was chosen by the University of Texas as the minister for commencement in 1956, quite an honor for one so young. Left to right in photo at right, Rev. A. Bertram Miller, Jack McGuire, John Jay Hopkins, President Logan Wilson, and Dean of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Physics, Charles Paul Boner.
The name of the church was changed on March 28, 1951 to The Congregational Church of Austin. Some members left the church to start a separate Unitarian church. According to Reverend Miller the church had a requirement that to be a member one needed to have been baptized. This presented a problem for the Unitarians in the congregation. They grudgingly went along with christening children, however when Clark Hubbs sought membership and Bert baptized him during a service, this was the last straw, so they resigned their membership. A member of The Congregational Church of Austin left a legacy to the Unitarian church which paid for its present building.
Student work and social emphasis continued and the church became financially self-supporting with some funds being furnished for student work. The Millers left in 1956 to pastor the South Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, VT. He served as pastor of the South Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury from 1955-63. He left to start a new church in Miami Lakes, Florida. He was there until 1977 when he left to be Associate Pastor of The Church by the Sea in Bal Harbor, Florida.
Bert was not the only Miller to work for civil rights. In 1969 or 70, in an effort to begin to be more integrated, the public schools in Dade County, FL asked for teachers to volunteer to be assigned to schools where they would be a minority, and Mary Margaret did. She left an all white school to team teach kindergarten at an all black school — Bunche Park Elementary, and years later at predominantly black North County Elementary until her retirement. At both schools she became friends with her teacher team-mates — both black, and quite fond of her students, many of whom she remembered for years. She was a strong advocate for and defender of her students when it came to standardized testing.
Following retirement in 1992, Bert and Mary Margaret remained in Florida where he served as interim minister at several churches in Dade County, FL: Key Biscayne Community Church, Miami Lakes Congregational Church and Christ Congregational. He continued to be involved in with South Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, VT where he had spent vacations since 1964 and retirement summers. He also continued to be active in the choirs of both Miami Lakes Congregational Church and Church By the Sea. Until perhaps 5 years ago he served as a UCC annuitant visitor, and he still serves on the finance committee of the UCC Florida Conference. Bert also help found the Counseling Ministry of South Florida (now Samaritan Counseling Centers.)
Bert and Mary came to Austin in 2001 to help celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the church.
Mary Margaret Miller died February 7, 2014. Her obituary read,
“Mrs. Mary Margaret Miller 88, of Bay Harbors Islands died Friday February 7, 2014 at the Suwannee Valley Care Center after an extended illness. She was the daughter of the late George A.L. and Elizabeth Engle Robarts Sr. She was preceded in death by one brother George A.L.Robarts, Jr. she was a member of the United Church of Christ, a kindergarten teacher for twenty-five years. She enjoyed china painting, traveling and spending time with her family. Mary is survived by her husband of sixty-three years of marriage The Reverend A. Bertram Miller, Bay Harbors, FL; one daughter Elizabeth Ann Nestler (Peter) Lebanon, NH; one brother William Robarts (Barbara) Lancaster, NH; one grandson Michael H. Nestler, two sister in laws MarthaJean Robarts and Julia Merrill and numerous nieces and nephews also survive.
A service for Mary Margaret was held at her home on Sunday February 9, 2014 with a visitation from 1:00 P.M. until 4:00 P.M. with a service following. Interment will take place at a later date.”
As of this writing Bert Miller remains in good health. He lives in Bay Harbor Island, Florida. He kindly provided many recollections from his days in Austin. In 2015, Bert provided a generous donation to the Congregational Church of Austin Endowment Fund, given “In memory of Mary Margaret Miller and all her church friends from the years 1951-1956. May God have blessed them all.”
A. Bertram & Mary Margaret Miller Photo Gallery