Valdosta Daily Times

January 7, 2013

A talented public servant

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Tommy Miller, Disaster Relief Chair for the South Georgia Chapter of the American Red Cross, doesn’t get much sleep in his volunteer position, but the thanks are enough to keep him going.

In fact, Miller has made a career out of public service, which began in 1969 when he took his first job at the Georgia State Patrol. In high school, Miller served as captain of the school safety patrol, through which he became interested in law enforcement.

“I always wondered what my talents were. I don’t sing, I can’t play the piano,” Miller said. “My talent is public service.”

Miller worked as a radio and communications officer with the GSP for 31 years and retired at the end of what he called the length of a “normal career.” In 1987, Miller volunteered to be deputy of the Emergency Management Agency, and became CPR certified as a prerequisite for the position.

Soon after his training, Miller volunteered to teach CPR and First Aid at the Red Cross, which he continued for eight years.

“They needed someone to teach CPR, so I started teaching it,” Miller said.

When he retired from the GSP in 2000, the sheriff of Randolph County asked Miller to serve as chief jailer. He took the job and served a four-year term from 2001 to 2005.

Miller met his third wife in 2005 and married her Feb. 7, 2006. He divorced his first wife, and lost his second wife to cancer. But he considers his current partner "a friend, a wife and everything."

"I'm a walking advertisement for her cooking," Miller said, patting his belly.

With little to do after retiring in 2005 and following his marriage, Miller decided to begin volunteering at the Red Cross disaster relief center in 2007. He moved to Valdosta in 2009 and was appointed Disaster Relief Chair.

In his career, he remembers responding to five major disasters in the South Georgia area. The Valdosta chapter of Red Cross's operational area extends from Alabama to the Atlantic coast.

Miller was part of the response effort at tornado damage sites in Ashburn, Fitzgerald and the Walker's Crossing area north of Valdosta, a flood in Tifton and the fire at Blanton Commons. He has never been deployed out of state, however.

The Red Cross considers any incident that causes more than $10,000 in damages a disaster, Miller said. Many times, house fires qualify. South Georgia Red Cross worked 144 house fires in 2012, and Miller was an on-scene volunteer for a house fire that happened Thursday.

Volunteers are often called out to house fires late at night to offer food, clothing and shelter to the victims.

"Here's the best way I can describe what it's like to be a volunteer," Miller said. "I only sleep between calls."

In spite of the lost nights, there is no better feeling than serving another person in need, according to Miller. The Red Cross is not funded by the government, but by donations, and volunteers are not paid to serve.

"When you're called out at 3 a.m. and you arrive on the scene to find a man in his skivvies, you're paid when he gives you a big old hug and whispers into your ear, 'Thank You,'" Miller said. "That's all the pay you need."

The Red Cross not only serves victims of fire and natural disaster, it also assists law enforcement and public service officers during emergencies, a service called "canteening," Miller said. Volunteers will bring water, food and snacks to police who are working long on-scene hours, during a hostage scenario, for example.

What keeps Miller as a volunteer for the Red Cross is simply the desire to help those in need and be useful to the individual, the family, the community and the country, he said. He encourages others to try volunteering with the organization.

Volunteers can come by the Red Cross office on the second floor of the Regions Bank Building, 509 North Patterson, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or call (229) 242-7404. Volunteers are asked to fill out an application form and submit a background check, and will be trained when accepted into the organization.