It was a few days after the disastrous provincial election of 2008, when the entire Class of Edmonton Alberta Liberals 2004 went down to unexpected (and unwarranted) defeat at the hands of the inexplicable Ed Stelmach juggernaut. We were gathered for an ill-timed leader’s dinner, the big fundraiser for the ALP. I opted to leave politics before the public made the choice for me (retiring undefeated, as I like to say), so I was in marginally better spirits than everyone else. But I could feel the pain in the room.
I went up to shake Rick Miller’s hand to commiserate, but he would have none of it: he insisted on a hug.
“Brothers don’t shake hands,” he said as we embraced. And he was serious, too. The crew of Edmonton newbies elected in 2004 — Bharat Agnihotri, Bill Bonko, Mo Elsalhy, Bruce Miller, Weslyn Mather, Jack Flaherty, Rick and yours truly — were a brotherhood (no offense, Weslyn). We had less than four years together, but we really did form an unbreakable bond, the kind of lifelong friendships that you normally develop in high school.
Now we’ve lost one of our brotherhood … and not just any member, but the heart and soul of our little group. Rick Miller, the former honorable member of the Alberta Legislature for Edmonton-Rutherford, died on Saturday of prostate cancer, criminally young at only 53 years.
If you drew up a list of everything you want in a politician, Rick would have had every attribute. He was in it for all the right reasons. While I was at best ambivalent about being in politics, Rick Miller loved it, every minute of it. He loved the meetings, he loved the constituents, he even — God help me — loved being in the Legislature.
On the occasions when we opposition tried to stop the unstoppable government with marathon, all-night-and-into-the-morning sessions, Rick was always there. Personally, I thought the whole thing was foolish, and I did my best to avoid them. Rick, being our whip (the guy in charge of the caucus) insisted that everyone be involved in the marathons, even guys like me who preferred to be home in bed at 4 a.m. rather than ‘debating’ whatever the issue of the day was. He wasn’t afraid to phone in reinforcements (that would be me) at 4 a.m. to get my sorry butt into work.
But I would never hold it against him, because you couldn’t get mad at Rick Miller. He was really one of those one-in-a-million people that everybody liked, because he genuinely liked people in return.
And he was fun. He loved to bend the elbow with the brotherhood in Bonko’s office/bar. He liked a good cigar (an oxymoron in my view), and he loved going to Cuba, which may be where he got his cigar habit. Even in the Legislature, which I saw as The Unhappiest Place on Earth, there were a few Rick inspired laughs. One day, another MLA (I believe it was Raj Pannu, the longtime NDPer who could go on at length about anything) had just finished a long and impassioned speech about something. When Raj was done, it was Rick’s turn. Quickly assessing the situation, Rick rose to his feet, and said “What he said”, and sat down. It brought the house down, and was the best speech I heard in the Legislature.
Another time, Rick was going on and on about something, and I was kind of listening. After a while, I noticed Rick was wandering, and not really making any sense (rare for him, common for others). In mid-speech, he turned around and said to me, “I have no idea what I’m talking about”.
While I was miserable in politics and fairly miserable at it, Rick loved it, and was great at it. He was pretty damn good at life, too. He was the kind of guy who just enjoyed living, and made the most of his far-too limited time on earth. I’m richer for having known him, and the world is poorer for having lost him.
For a photographic look back at Rick’s days as an MLA and friend, check out Earl Woods’ blog.