Josephine C. 'Jo' Miller, civic activist

Josephine C. "Jo" Miller, a civic activist who was a member of the League of Women Voters for 50 years and a Baltimore City Zoning Board watchdog for the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, died March 22 of esophageal cancer at her Roland Park Place home. She was 84.

The daughter of J. William Carlson, an electrical engineer, and Isabelle Young Carlson, a homemaker, the former Josephine Lois Carlson was born and raised in Kearny, N.J.

After graduating in 1947 from Kearny High School, she earned a bachelor's degree in biology in 1951 from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa.

She moved to Baltimore after college when she took a job as a research assistant at the James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She worked there until 1955, when she married Norvell Elliott Miller III.

The Millers lived in Bolton Hill and later moved to a home on Wickford Road in Roland Park, where they lived for 27 years and raised their three children. Since 2003, they had lived at Roland Park Place.

"She took to mothering as both a joy and the ultimate responsibility in life, frequently holding down the fort while I traveled for my job and when I was serving in the Maryland National Guard and the Army Reserves," said her husband, who retired from Lippincott William & Wilkins, where he had been director of book production.

A great believer in education, she urged her children to study what made them the happiest, which resulted in their having careers in ballet, venture capital and academia.

Interested in civic affairs, Mrs. Miller was an active member and volunteer with the Baltimore League of Women Voters for 50 years, where she worked in various capacities.

Mrs. Miller compiled the first comprehensive listing of all the Baltimore City boards and commissions with the necessary contact information, and in 1985, wrote a history of the league.

As a league representative, Mrs. Miller went to city-owned housing complexes to instruct residents on how to elect their representatives. She also lectured children in city public schools about the three divisions of government.

"I worked with Jo at the league and she was such a good and fine person. Everything she touched, she improved it," said Mimi Cooper, a friend of many years. "She was a detail person and right on."

In addition to her work with the league, Mrs. Miller volunteered for 20 years with the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, where she monitored meetings of the Baltimore City Zoning Board.

"We went every Tuesday for 20 years. Before we went to the meeting, we'd go to the Beehive Restaurant near City Hall for a corned beef Reuben sandwich," said another longtime friend, Ellie Kelly.

"Boy, did Jo have a crackerjack memory for facts and problems. She had a marvelous memory and retained everything," Mrs. Kelly said.

"She also had a good sense of humor, which was very wry. She could see both sides of an issue and was very aware," said Mrs. Kelly. "She was always very sensible, not adversarial, and straightforward. She was the eyes and ears for CPHA."

Mrs. Kelly described her friend as being "ahead of her time."

"Back before it was law, she'd say, 'Buckle up your seat belt. When you do that, not only are you safer, your insurance rates are lower,'" recalled Mrs. Kelly.

"Jo was a person who could reach out to the real world and she understood the real world," Mrs. Kelly said.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Miller was an inveterate reader, and for 12 years took literature courses at Goucher College.

She edited three books about the history of urology at Johns Hopkins and in the United States for her mentor, Dr. William Wallace Scott, an internationally known pioneering urologist who headed the department of urology at Hopkins for years.

"Her hobby was reading," her husband said.

When macular degeneration took her sight in 2002, Mrs. Miller began listening to books on tape.

"She didn't let her macular degeneration slow her down," Mr. Miller said.

Mrs. Miller had been a member and Sunday school teacher at First Presbyterian Church, now First and Franklin Presbyterian Church, and in later years attended services at First English Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guilford.

Mrs. Miller donated her body to the Maryland Anatomy Board.

A celebration of her life will be held at 2 p.m. April 26 at Roland Park Place, 830 W. 40th St.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Miller is survived by a son, Norvell Elliott "Buster" Miller IV of Wilmington, N.C.; two daughters, Johanna Miller Lewis of Little Rock, Ark., and Mary Miller Faulkenberry of Bermuda; and six grandchildren.

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