Mimi Miller receives Thad Cochran Humanities Achievement Award
Published 1:02 am Sunday, February 26, 2023
NATCHEZ — Natchez’s own Mimi Miller was presented the Thad Cochran Humanities Achievement Award on Friday morning at the opening of the second day of the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.
Carter Burns, in introducing Mimi prior to the presentation of the award, said it is given each year to a Mississippian who had dedicated years of time, talent and expertise to the humanities.
“That description perfectly fits Mimi Miller,” Burns said.
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Miller and her late husband, Ron, moved from Delaware to Jackson in 1972, when Ron was fresh out of graduate school and was hired as an architectural historian by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to supervise the restoration of Historic Jefferson College.
“Ron and Mimi were immediately entranced by Natchez’s history and architecture. They found their calling and dedicated their careers to researching, interpreting and preserving Natchez,” he said.
In 1974, the Historic Natchez Foundation was established and Ron Miller was hired to serve as its first executive director in 1979. Mimi worked at the foundation in a variety of capacities before becoming its second executive director in 2008, when Ron was hired by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to head up its disaster recovery field office on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In that job, he administered a $26 million fund for restoring historic properties damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
“Mimi and Ron created one of the most successful, grassroots preservation organizations in the country at the foundation,” Burns said.
He recounted Mimi Miller’s many accomplishments, including establishing National Register Historic Districts in downtown Natchez, establishing a revolving fund to acquire endangered historic buildings and saved more than 50 buildings through acquisition, easement or option, as well as lend her expert guidance to scores of individuals and organizations about the proper restoration of historic buildings, assisting many of them in obtaining preservation grants and historic tax credits.
Mimi Miller also led the effort to establish the Natchez National Historic Park, Burns said.
“Mimi and Ron broadened the scope of historic preservation in Natchez greatly,” he said. “They adopted Natchez and Natchez adopted them. Mimi has dedicated her life to making better her adopted hometown.”
In accepting the award, Miller said Burns had stolen part of her acceptance speech.
“Every day, and you can see why now, I am grateful that I now work for Carter,” she said.
“This award is particularly meaningful to me because it is an anniversary of sorts,” Miller said. “On a cold day in January 1973, my husband and I moved to Natchez from Jackson. We had only six months before we moved from Delaware to Jackson. And we arrived on a very cold day with a one-month-old son and an 18-month-old daughter and the gas didn’t work in the apartment, which Tom Gandy immediately took charge of. How he had the gas turned on, on a Sunday, I don’t know. But he was always so great to us and was a great factor in our early life here and later of course with his marriage to Joan as well. Ron slept many a night in Tom Gandy’s basement during the six months that we were in Jackson before we moved permanently to Natchez.”
Ron Miller died unexpectedly on Sept. 2, 2022.
“What an incredible place to have spent 50 years,” she said. “It’s hard for me to talk about Ron and hard for me to bring him up and that’s impossible not to do, so this is very short. Every day he would say how lucky we were to live here. As his memory declined, he might tell me that 10 or 15 times a day. That was also a way of making me know he had been right.”
In closing, Miller thanked all with whom she has worked and who have supported her during her 50 years here. She said none of her accomplishments would have been possible without her husband, Ron.
Also presented Friday morning was the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence to Jackson native Katy Simpson Smith, author of The Story of Land and Sea, Free Men, and New York Times Best Historical Fiction of 2020, The Everlasting.