Obituary: Julia ‘Judy’ Miller
A memorial celebration of life will be held for noted educator Julia “Judy” Alcina Teresa Guitano Miller of Montclair, who died peacefully on April 3, 2021, at age 92, on Saturday, July 31, at 1 p.m. in Jubilee Hall on the campus of Seton Hall University in South Orange.
All who knew her are invited to come, tell stories and remember her. Seton Hall University and CDC COVID-19 guidelines will be followed.
Mrs. Miller was born in Brooklyn in 1928, the last of seven children, to Louis and Julia Guitano of Venezuela and St. Kitts, British West Indies. She attended PS 129 in Brooklyn and Bushwick High School. She was the goddaughter of Gladys Weeks, a New York City elementary school teacher who took her under her wing and guided her educational and cultural development.
She was a papa’s girl. She adored her father, who was a man of the world, a short story author and an autodidact who taught her philosophy and classic literature.
Mrs. Miller excelled in school and also enjoyed participating at the local settlement house. It was at an event there that Eleanor Roosevelt came to speak. Roosevelt noticed her assisting with the program and, after the long day, she offered her a ride home in her limo.
She graduated high school at the age of 16 and attended Brooklyn College. There, she was mentored in student government activities by upper class student Shirley Chisholm. Decades later she helped organize northern New Jersey in Chisholm’s presidential campaign.
In 1946 she met the love of her life, Donald Miller, an art student recently back from the war. For him it was love at first sight; she was not so sure. After graduating college in 1950, Mrs. Miller joined the American Friends Service Committee and went to volunteer in Xochimilco, Mexico, for a year, and to contemplate what she was going to do about Don Miller.
Upon her return, even though Mrs. Miller told her not to, her best friend, Leila Skipper, informed Mr. Miller of her return. After two long years of courtship, she eventually said yes. They were married in 1952.
Mr. Miller had asked her if she wanted a big ring or a long honeymoon. They spent several months on their honeymoon, beginning in Haiti, then Puerto Rico, on to Jamaica to meet family, and ending back at “Judy’s town” in Mexico, volunteering on building a wastewater system. Their marriage lasted over 40 years, sharing a love and partnership that was inspirational until Mr. Miller’s death at age 69 in 1993.
After marriage and before children, Mrs. Miller was a social worker at Settlement House NYC and at Mountainside hospital.
She gave birth to her first child, Eric, in 1957 and second, Craig, in 1959. For the next 10 years, while being a stay-at-home mom, she became involved with the Montclair community as a PTA president, a member of the board of trustees of the Unitarian Church of Montclair, in various civil rights activities and as an Essex County committeewoman.
She was appointed as a research associate to Gov. Richard Hughes’ Select Commission on Civil Disorders, which produced the “Report for Action,” the definitive study of the 1967 riots in Newark. After completing that work, she went to work as an English as a Second Language teacher at the Manpower Skills Center in Newark.
Her father always told her that a person should own land. So, from the proceeds of her return to remunerated work, the couple bought property in upstate New York. “The Farm” became the refuge for family and friends where relationships were deepened and much fun was had.
Mrs. Miller was the founding associate director of the Black Studies Center at Seton Hall University under Dr. George Jackson, serving there from 1970 until 1984, when she retired as director. She came out of retirement soon after and returned to SHU as a consultant to design a universitywide student volunteer work program, similar to what was done within the Black Studies Center. That initiative is now called D.O.V.E., the Division of Volunteer Efforts.
While at SHU, she completed her M.A., and then her Ed.D. at Rutgers University under the mentorship of Dr. Samuel Proctor. She was awarded SHU’s highest honor, the Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid Medal for Distinguished Service, In 1987. The award expresses the university's appreciation for members of the Seton Hall community who have served beyond measure with selfless dedication.
On a Fulbright grant in 1989, Mrs. Miller taught about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement at Wuhan University in China. While there, the Tiananmen Square uprising occurred, with many students going on strike. However, her students continued attending her classes and asked her to teach them the anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome.”
Throughout her life she traveled the world for teaching, research and pleasure.
From 1990 to 1998 she was the N.J. state director of Communities in Schools, a national nonprofit that provides students with a community of support to stay in school.
She served on several boards. Her longest board service was with the Turrell Fund. She was a founding member of the N.J. Amistad Commission and the N.J. Association of Black Educators.
Mrs. Miller is survived by her sisters, Olga Guitano Cooke and Martha Diaz; sons Eric and Craig; their wives, Lin Wood and Shawn Miller; grandchildren Abeo, Marlee and Trent; step-granddaughters Nicole Wood-Irizawa (Fumiaki) and Erika Wood-Heidemann (Mark); great-granddaughters Kei and Sophie, and dozens of nieces, nephews and dear friends.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Don and Judy Miller Scholarship for the Visual Arts at Montclair State University.