CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Tom Miller, a journalistic institution at the Statehouse and author of the groundbreaking “Who Owns West Virginia?” series, has died at age 78.
“They’ll remember him as one of the best Statehouse reporters the newspaper has had and someone with a great deal of perspective and institutional knowledge,” said Ed Dawson, editor and publisher of Huntington’s Herald-Dispatch newspaper.
“He was bringing years of experience in looking at whatever the issue of the week was.”
Miller’s 1975 series “Who Owns West Virginia,” which explored dominant absentee land ownership, earned national recognition by winning the Gerald Loeb Award in 1975 for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism. The series is still cited by state journalists as an example of deep reporting on a complicated but crucial issue.
“That was a pretty ambitious investigative piece before those things were the fashion,” Dawson said.
Miller, who grew up in Lincoln County, started at the Huntington Advertiser, when the city had an afternoon newspaper. After the city’s newspapers were combined, Miller became a political reporter for the Herald-Dispatch and became a West Virginia journalistic mainstay.
“I’m proud to have worked with him and even prouder to have had him as a friend,” said James Casto, a peer who served as editorial page editor for the Herald-Dispatch.
Casto started at the Herald-Dispatch in 1963 when Miller was still at the Advertiser. For a time, both young reporters were on the city beat.
“He regularly seemed to beat me to the best City Hall stories,” Casto recalled. “I couldn’t figure that out. Then I figured out he and the city manager played in the same weekly poker game.”
Miller’s work ethic and insight continued as he advanced to the Statehouse beat, Casto said.
“There he became something of a legend and the undisputed dean of the Capitol press corps. Tom knew everybody, and just as important, everybody knew and respected him.”
After his retirement from the newspaper in 1995, Miller enjoyed a second act on the airwaves for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, recalled Beth Vorhees, who is now the executive producer of The West Virginia Channel.
“When we hired him as our reporter for Legislature Today, he covered the Senate. He didn’t miss a beat, he knew the players, the Senators, the staff, the attorneys. He felt comfortable talking to them about any given issue. No fuss, no fuss, no drama. Just good at his job.
“That’s what I remember him for so much. A great sense of humor. A wonderful perspective on the people and the news and the lawmaking process. And a gentleman to boot.”
Although Miller had spent years with only a pen and notebook, he adapted easily to broadcast, Vorhees said.
“For an old newspaper guy, he could sure do TV standups like nobody’s business. He had no trouble doing those. He enjoyed doing those,’ she said.
“When ATV legislation was a big thing, what’d he do? He sat in an ATV with a helmet on and did a standup.”
It was a bit of a role reversal for Vorhees. When she was a young reporter at the Statehouse, Miller was a veteran reporter who took the time and interest to show her the ropes.
“I’ve worked for public broadcasting for 34 years and started out covering the Legislature,” Vorhees said. “Just watching him work in press conferences with governors or senators — he knew the background, the history of an issue, the people involved.
“He was just an encyclopedia of Statehouse and political knowledge.”
A memorial service for Miller will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the United Methodist Church in Pea Ridge, Huntington, where he was a long-term member.