Samuel Miller, MD
Dan Miller was a young man growing up in Citrus County when the AIDS crisis began in 1981. But he remembers what his father, Dr. Samuel R. Miller, did.
“My dad was one of the only doctors in the community who would see AIDS patients. He would visit them in local nursing homes when other doctors refused,” he recalled. “He said, ‘I got into this business to take care of people. There may be a health risk for me, but those patients will die if I don’t go to them.’ He was a very compassionate man.”
When Miller established a practice in Crystal River in 1955, only two other doctors had active practices in the area, and one of those retired soon after he arrived. If someone needed a hospital, they went to Brooksville or Ocala.
Miller’s practice extended from Chiefland to Weeki Wachee, in areas that were remote, with rough and pitted roads. Cedar mills, a pencil factory, tourism, and fishing were the major industries. The doctor’s office, on Citrus Avenue in Crystal River, was one of few buildings in the county to have air conditioning. People sometimes stopped in just to get cool.
In 1955, most babies were delivered at home. Miller, however, had pledged to himself that he wouldn’t do home deliveries. He renovated part of his office and turned it into a delivery room. Women who delivered there stayed overnight. He hired women from the community to stay with mother and baby.
He was one of the first members of the Citrus Memorial Hospital medical staff – and the only one from the west side of the county. He was a strong advocate for, and one of the founders of, Seven Rivers Hospital. A bible study in his living room became the seed from which Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church grew.
“He was a humble, kind, and spiritual man,” said Dan Gardner, CEO of Gardner Audiology. “He would go out of his way to help people, both physically and spiritually.”
Just before he came to Crystal River, Miller was working for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a physician in a mountain community that had been cut off by a damn.
“The people who lived in the mountains didn’t trust outsiders. Dad was from Knoxville, Tennessee,” Dan Miller said. “So, the TVA hired Dad to work in the community. They gave him an old Army jeep to drive up the mountain to visit people in their cabins.
“I don’t know how the folks in Crystal River found out about my dad, but someone contacted him and invited him to set up a practice there,” Dan continued. “Mom and Dad had three kids at the time, and one on the way. They came to Crystal River and were shown all around. People took them fishing and said, ‘wouldn’t this be a wonderful place to raise your family?’ Dad loved to fish.”
Dan is the youngest of Samuel and Garnett Field Miller’s five children and the only one born in Citrus County. Now a licensed mental health counselor in Orlando, he recalled another time his father risked his own safety to help a ptient.
“He had a patient, a young man, who was passing a kidney stone and was in extreme pain. Of course, Dad did house calls back then, so he went to the man’s house – in the eye of a hurricane – to give him pain medication so he could weather the storm. He ended up having to ride out the storm at the man’s house.”
Crystal River Assistant City Manager Jack Dumas noted that Miller was the first man he ever met – “He delivered me!”
Miller delivered Dumas in 1959 at Citrus Memorial Hospital and served as the family’s physician for decades after.
“He took care of everything from baseball blows to the head, to stitching fingers up, to broken collarbones, to every other childhood disease I ever had,” said Dumas, who obviously was an active child. “Let’s just say that we knew Dr. Miller’s home phone number.”
Miller’s skills as a physician were well known in the community, but his spiritual side was also impressive, said Dumas.
“He was a fabulous physician, but the thing that amazed me about him was he had a very faithful walk with Christ,” he said. In fact, Miller and his wife, Garnett Field Miller, were instrumental in the founding of Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church. In the mid-1960s, the couple started a bible study in their living room – a small group that evolved to become the church.
Garnett Miller was a highly educated woman, something that was rather unusual in the 1950s. She had two master’s degrees and worked as a substitute teacher. In 1966, she became the first director of the Key Training Center.
“It was intense – she worked 60 to 70 hours a week,” said Dan. “They had no funding; the organization was holding on by a shoestring. Mom wrote grants and did what she could to raise money to keep it going.”
Dan Gardner established his audiology practice in Crystal River in 1975. Soon after, Miller became his patient. Gardner treated Miller’s hearing problems until Miller’s death in 2006.
He recalls that Miller was one of the doctors who campaigned for a hospital in Crystal River. When Seven Rivers Community Hospital opened in 1978, he was one of the original medical staff.
“At the time, there was a huge potential for growth in that part of the county, because of the Cross Florida Barge Canal,” said Gardner. “Sam worked behind the scenes with other community leaders to get the hospital going.”
His dual commitments – to the physical and spiritual well-being of the community were equally strong, said Gardner.
“Ingrained in my memory is a day I stopped by to visit him. He gave me a bible that he had signed with a personal message. I still have that bible to this day,” he said.
Miller also was committed to his family. Dan Miller remembers many family adventures on the water.
“My dad loved the outdoors and loved the water. Just about every Sunday after church, we’d get in our boat and go to a local restaurant that had water access,” he said. “We’d get food and go to Shell Island for a picnic. I have good memories of wandering around the island and fishing. It was great growing up in Crystal River. It was quite small and connected as a community.”
“Sam Miller hearkens back to some of the good elements of earlier times, when a doctor was on a first-name basis and part of the community, both professional and personally,” said Gardner. “Any physician is science-based, but he had a faith that moved him forward. He believed there’s something greater than ourselves behind everything.
“I have a great amount of respect and admiration for him.”