Friday, June 26, 2009

A sailor's Epitaph for the wind

A few words I hope will honour the enduring memory of a healer, wise man, and grandfather:

I once witnessed a funeral in the township of Mapalo in Zambia; the small red dirt pathway was covered by mourners, all of whom were dressed in their brightest colors. On the fringes of the group stood a man and as I passed by I heard the words “when an elder passes it is as if a library has burned to the ground”. The words stuck to me, some sort of Zambian proverb perhaps.

The news of Grandpa’s passing arrived to me somewhere amongst the rolling hills and sprawling forests of baobab and acacia between the town of Chipata and the Capital of Lusaka. The words were devastating and for a moment even the bus, plunging ever forward at over 100 km/h seemed to stand still. To me it felt as if a great library had burned down in Calgary; one which I had cherished and learned uncountable life lessons from had disappeared in a foreign horizon, beyond my sight and beyond my control.

To say my grandfather was an honest man would be an understatement. He would speak his mind willfully but never in spite. His love and wisdom were shared equally with all those who were lucky enough to make his acquaintance. His honesty, love, and dedication to humanity knew no boundaries; at least there were no boundaries I ever beheld. He had another rare gift: tenacity and stubbornness to soldier on through whatever adversities and hardships he encountered. Fall down? Yes, don’t we all…? But he was never one to stay down. Dr. Miller, as I would hear him referred to by others, is a name that is only a further testament to his ability to impact the lives of others through his love, wisdom and persistence. He once remarked to me about his passion and intrinsic drive to serve and how surgery was a fulfillment of such traits…. “fixin’ people up” is what he would call it.

My passion in life took shape in a way different from medicine – international / human development. But these words were a constant source of inspiration for me throughout my young life and continue to be so to this day. Before leaving for Zambia in May I visited him at home – he told me that what I was about to embark upon was as good as surgery in his mind. That’s the last time I ever spoke to him… but a more meaningful conversation I could not have asked for. I share this anecdote as, to me, it embodies his love and support for his family.

When I think about all the lives my grandpa touched – his medical practice which saved and improved lives, as well as the wisdom he openly shared with his family, friends, and community I feel proud to have ever known such a man. When I think about the love he shared and planted in others like seeds, inspiring others to serve, I am proud to have been able to call George E. Miller ‘grandpa’. For me it would seem that the wise man in Zambia, or any other African country that started the saying “when an elder passes it is as if a great library has burned” did not know Dr. Miller, didn’t know my grandpa. He was a man who shared wisdom and love with all and that is an enduring legacy that will not be lost with his passing. While the library may be gone the wisdom and love remains. Thank you grandpa, rest easy.



  1. Thank you for this wonderful tribute, Patrick. Very touching.

  2. Patrick - This is a most moving tribute and appreciated greatly by all - Bruce