Gene Miller · 2002
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Miller’s first words, when contacted about his induction into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame were, “Now, don’t make a big fuss about this.” It seems fair to say that Miller would much prefer to write a story than be the subject of one–even if it is written in his honor.
An Evansville native, Miller is a 1950 graduate of Indiana University, where he worked on The Indiana Daily Student. He began his professional career at the Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette, then worked for the Wall Street Journal and the News Leader in Richmond, Virginia, prior to joining The Miami Herald in 1957. While at the Herald, he received the Heywood Broun Award and was a Nieman Fellow. He covered a vast array of local, national and international stories, including the Jim Jones-led mass suicide in Guyana, where Miller was the first print journalist to enter Jonestown to cover the story. And of course, there are the two Pulitzer Prizes. He won both while at the Herald-one in 1967, the other in 1976. The first was for local investigative specialized reporting.
His work began in 1963 when he wrote about the case of a woman sentenced to life in prison for two murders. During his research, he discovered that she was actually hundreds of miles away when the murders took place. As a result of his articles, she was released from prison. As he was doing research and investigation for that story, he also discovered apparent injustices in another case as well. That case involved an airman who was sentenced to life in prison for murder. Miller uncovered new evidence that resulted in another trial, after which the man was acquitted. Millets first Pulitzer was for the reporting on both cases.
He received his second Pulitzer in the category of local general spot news reporting. He spent more than eight years writing stories about two men who were sentenced to death. His book, Invitation to a Lynching, was based on these cases. The two men were later freed.
Miller served as a reporter and editor at The Miami Herald from 1957 to 2001, and still works there on a part-time basis. When asked for biographical information for inclusion in this printed program, he supplied the following paragraph. Printed below is the story of Gene Miller’s career, in his own words.
Gene Edward Miller. Born in Evansville, Indiana, Sept. 16, 1928. Pre-kindergarten firebug. Hid under bed as firemen from Engine 15 extinguished grass fire. Cut first day of basketball tryout, Bosse High. Oboist, gold medal. Indiana University, ’50, AB journalism, where purchased for 4 cents The Chicago Tribune’s “Dewey Beats Truman.” Never again, right? (Honorary LL.D., 1976.)
Overpaid at $50 a week at first newspaper job, The Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1950. Secret agent in Army Counter Intelligence Corps, 1951-53. On surveillance, forgot where parked car. Fired from The Wall Street Journal in 1954 for lacking respect for price of crude cottonseed oil. Reporter, The News Leader, Richmond, Virginia, 1954-57.
Departed after motorist failed to pay 5 cent toll and guard shot at him. Managing editor didn’t think it was news because publisher and his neighbors owned the bridge. Reporter and editor at The Miami Herald from 1957 to lucrative buyout in 2001, then part time under contract: Everything from the JFK assassination to Elian with the presidential follies in between, Nixonian Watergate to Clintonian Starr Report. At the factory on the bay, silkpursed the ears of sows, mountained molehills, thumbed dikes, and unscrewed things when things got screwed up. Covered: Yarmouth Castle fire, Birmingham and MLK, Candy Mossler, Mackle kidnapping, Apollo, Chappaquidick, Kent State, Dolphins Perfect Season, Three Mile Island, Patty Hearst, Mai Lai and Lt. Calley, Attica, Elvis, Ted Bundy, Gary Gilmore, Guyana suicides, McDuffie trial and riots, George Wallace, Fountain
Valley massacre, some of which seemed important at the time. Pulitzer Prizes in 1967 and 1976 for malfunctions of justice, common enough in Florida. Wrongful convictions for murder: Joe Shea, Mary Katherin Hampton, Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee. Son Tom, a smart aleck, once asked, “Know why you have two, Dad? Because everyone else gets a good job after the first.” Editor for two more, Edna Buchanan in 1986 and Sydney Freedberg in 1991. Peripheral contributor: 1993 and 1999. Married 41 years to Electra Yphantis (1923-1993), Bostonian, Greek, Harvard and Johns Hopkins, and begat four children, Janet Nostro, Theresa Miller, Thomas Raphael, Robin Travis. (Eight grandchildren.) In 1998, married Caroline Heck, federal prosecutor, University of Chicago and Harvard Law, mother of Daniel. Along the way: Nieman Fellowship; couple of out-of-print books (83 Hours ‘Til Dawn and Invitation to a Lynching); and a successful copyright infringement lawsuit against Universal Pictures, the scoundrels. Swims a thousand yards daily with the grace and beauty of a floating log. Heart beat so slow Pacemaker installed. For sexual escapades, see addenda.
(February 13, 2002. First written for IU 50th reunion, then revised.)