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Shirlyn Miller was the center of attention, but she made sure her family shared in the limelight.

Ambassador of Peace Award Ceremony is a Family Affair

It was a family affair on Thursday, Sept. 22, when William Miller lectured on the topic of peace and justice as part of an evening in which his mother, Shirlyn, accepted the St. Norbert Ambassador of Peace Award. 

The Miller family’s deep-rooted connection with work for public understanding, originating with Shirlyn and her husband Norman Miller, dates back many decades. It is work that will stand for the ages with Shirlyn’s decision some years ago to endow the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice & Public Understanding on campus. The family name also lives on in connection with a long-established lecture series, the Norman & Louis Miller Lecture in Public Understanding. (The late Louis Miller was Norman’s brother.)

Always committed to the common good of all, Shirlyn first publicly advocated for peace when she assumed leadership roles in the Jewish community and served as president of the League of Women Voters. 

As her children grew she educated and inspired them to work for peace and justice. It’s a commitment that is evident today in the work and lives of the Miller children – William, Lynn Cullen and Susan Nuetzel – all of whom were present for the Ambassador of Peace award ceremony. And it was fitting that William was invited to give the lecture that traditionally accompanies the event.

Just as his mother and father were and are advocates of peace, William Miller’s path has led him to the study of peace and justice as the Thomas G. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. He recognizes the importance of a word’s history and how it correlates to the true meaning of it in the present day. In his lecture on campus, he made the argument that justice is equivalent to evenness or straightness. Each side of a dispute undervalues or overvalues their own side, and the true value may ultimately be arbitrated by a third party. This person adjusts the uneven scale to make all equal once again. 

Fabricating evenness in this way may be as monstrous as injustice, Miller told his audience. Sometimes it is just too costly to do justice, and the very cost of obtaining it would undermine peace. In fact, it could mean endless war. Given the sheer quantity of human evil, justice has to make compromises: not because she is moved by mercy but because she recognizes her limit. What do we gain from recognizing the limits of justice, Miller asked. We gain peace.

Miller concluded, “Blessed are the peacemakers because they take on the moral burden of forcing moral compromises on us for the greater good of us all.”     

A center in their name
Well into her 10th decade, Shirlyn Miller continues her involvement in the Norman Miller Center which she endowed in 2012 to further honor her late husband. 

Norman Miller dedicated his life to bringing people together in peace. As a student at Northwestern University in the early 1940s, Norman traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with Supreme Court justices Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter to seek their support for Better Understanding Week, a symposium on discrimination. Two decades later, inspired by a conversation with Vince Lombardi, Norman helped to organize a volunteer commission that played a critical role in passing open housing legislation in Wisconsin. In 1993, the Miller family established the Norman & Louis Miller Lecture in Public Understanding at St. Norbert College to educate future leaders and promote unity and communication among different cultures and religions. 

Shirlyn has touched and continues to touch the students of St. Norbert in a most unique way by developing friendships that continue well beyond the walls of the classroom. She continues to inspire young and old alike, recently agreeing to serve on the Board of Directors of Cnesses Israel Congregation for a term that will take her into her 97th year. 


Oct. 4, 2016