One year later

 Dad was diagnosed one year ago today.  This  evening, we held a tribute benefit for HopeLink where I work and these were the words I delivered to the 175 in attendance.

My dad and I met for coffee this morning.

It was about 3am, my usual wake up time.

I got out of bed, took the dog out to pee, brewed a pot of coffee and sat in the living room to watch him work in the stillness of the morning like I’ve done so many times in my life.  I scanned from frame to frame watching his broad strokes of genius on each of the memories hanging on my undeserving walls.  We exchanged opinions about the lighting in each scene, his choice of shadows, his mix of colors and over his shoulder, my tears dripped onto his palette as he again dipped his brush to paint his sky as they have each morning about this time for the last few months.

Mike Miller may be gone, but he will never be absent.

It was July of last year when my boss at my new job called me into her office and closed the door.

She said they were beginning to plan tonight’s event and she delicately asked if my dad wouldn’t mind if we paid him a small tribute this evening as part of this celebration of art, artists and artisans of many genres.

I was enroute to visit him in California that evening, midway through the battle that took him home last October.

I told him of her proposal for the February event and, predictably, he said that while he’d be honored  by the thought, I should hold off buying him a ticket.

Mike Miller may be gone, but he will never be absent.

Not just  a creative genius, he was a funny, funny man.

I’ve never written a tribute speech.

I spoke at his memorial.

But even there, he one upped me and everyone else in attendance  if you recall.

But tonight is no memorial.

Tonight is a celebration of the arts and what they give to us.

It is, indeed, a night about giving.

Mike Miller gave us a lot more than we realize.

He gave us countless pieces of beauty captured eternally on the canvasses of our walls.

He gave us big pictures of scenic designs  in many of Disney’s  first animated films.

He gave us caricatures, cartoons and creative campaigns of art and illustration.

He gave us bronze sculptures, mountain men and a glimpse into the hard life of the old west.

He gave us award-winning, provocative advertising, slogans and designs for 50 years.

He gave millions of dollars to the university and traded them a buck for it.

He gave thousands of children reading adventures withTomas the Tortoise.

And, he gave me, hands down, the best campaign signs for high school student body president, bar none.

Mike Miller may be gone, but he will never be absent.

The most unique attribute of art, is that it  continues to give well after the artist is gone.

Few of us will be able to do that in our lifetimes.

You see, the true heart of giving is not merely about that moment.

It’s about a contribution to a moment  that will inspire future moments

That will inspire future moments

That will inspire future moments of giving.

It’s about being the artist.

Truly, giving is about the artist in us all.

What will we create for others that will last well beyond our years?

What picture will we paint that will change the normal for so many who know no different?

The very last conversation I had with my dad at his bedside before he died wasn’t about his art.  It wasn’t about his childrens’ books.  It wasn’t even about “Hey Reb!”

It was about how proud he was of me of the choice I have made in my own life to do the work that I do that changes lives.

In essence, he called me his peer, an artist, who, by my work, will leave impressions on people I may never know or see.

Mike Miller gave so much.

He may be gone, but he will never be absent.

He mixed  his final stroke with my tears on the palette, and it was a masterpiece at 3am. The coffee was cold and I told him it was gonna be a busy day today getting ready for tonight’s event. I said thanks for giving a few of his pieces for tonight’s auction and for the memories. He said pick some nice pieces, Don.  It’s a great cause.

And could feel that funny grin over my shoulder….and he said, very quietly….

“But tell them I’ll be watching who’s bidding and how much.”