Columbia resident Barbara Miller, 70, grew up in the post-Depression era in Republic, Pa., a small coal mining town in the southwestern part of the state, about 45 miles south of Pittsburgh. In addition to economically challenging times, the civil rights movement was still years away. Despite these challenges, Miller's parents taught Barbara and her nine siblings the importance of loving God, family, country and the value of education.
Miller graduated from Redstone Township High School and then moved to the Washington area, entering the Freedmen's Hospital School of Nursing (now Howard University School of Nursing). She talks about the struggle to have her accomplishments recognized by the white-dominated society, her continued drive for education, her faith, her children and her volunteer efforts in today's Top 5.
How did you find out that you had made it into the National Honor Society?
While being taught the value of love, I had to manage the fact I graduated from high school with honors, but the administration would not acknowledge this achievement. Because of my high grade-point average, my mother questioned the administrators as to why I was not inducted into the National Honor Society. They insisted I did not qualify. This was very painful for me, as I knew I had met the requirements.
During my orientation conversation with the Director of Nursing at Freedmen's, and while reviewing my entrance package, she congratulated me for being a member of the National Honor Society. I could not believe what she was saying. In fact, she had to show me the document as I was in total disbelief. I worked hard as a high school student to achieve that status.
How did you become only the second black head nurse in th history of Providence Hospital?
My training at Freedmen's Hospital was great and the experiences gained as a student nurse were invaluable. It was an old institution so students had to learn how to improvise with materials in order to perform various required nursing procedures. Patients received excellent nursing care, although it was not through the utilization of modern technology.
When I graduated from Freedmen's Hospital School of Nursing, my first job as a registered nurse was at Providence Hospital, in Washington. No longer having to improvise, I was very skilled at providing outstanding nursing care to the patients. This hospital was new and so the necessary materials and equipment were readily available. I felt very comfortable working as a staff nurse and at times the charge nurse. So nine months later, when the nursing supervisor interviewed me to be the head nurse on this surgical unit, I felt qualified to accept. I firmly believed that the excellent training I received at Freedmen's prepared me for this time and place.
Being promoted to head nurse was very surreal. I was only the second African American nurse to achieve such status in this Catholic hospital. My outstanding performance as a staff/charge nurse, coupled with my ability to manage the entire professional and non professional nursing staff, ensured that the patients received the ultimate level of professional nursing care. Outstanding performance evaluations would follow me and my team throughout my tenure.
What lead your career to the Department of Health and Human Services?
After the birth of our two children, I worked part-time as a private duty nurse. While raising our children, I decided to move from clinical nursing to nursing research and accepted a position with the National Institute of Mental Health. As a neonatal nurse research analyst, I conducted physiological sleep studies on new born infants. These subjects were the children of parents in our longitudinal behavioral/sleep study. I was the first African American nurse to hold this coveted position.
I decided to augment my education, went back to school and graduated with distinction from Columbia Union College with a Bachelor of Science in organizational management.
Revisiting my desire to return to management, I became a management intern with the Department of Health and Human Services. This opportunity exposed me to the areas of administrative and financial management, human resources, procurement management (grants and contracts) and management and program analysis. During the Carter Administration, I assisted in conducting manpower utilization and manpower productivity studies. Data from these studies were used to justify additional programs and services to accomplish the mission of the DHHS.
During my 30 years of dedicated service, I received numerous honors and awards — including the Public Health Service Precious Resource Award, PHS Outstanding Performance Awards and PHS Special Achievement Award. I ultimately retired from the DHHS as director of the Office of Management Policy and Administrative Services.
Volunteering became a larger priority in your life after your retirement. What kinds of groups did you get involved with?
After retirement from the federal government, I had more time to perform volunteer services. To that end, I became more active in my church — St. John Baptist Church. Through the church, I helped develop and implement the first African American faith-based male mentoring program in Howard County.
As director of the SJBC Male Mentoring Program, we recruited African American male youth from single female headed households and matched them one-to-one-with African American adult male role models. During the 9 1/2 years as director, we wrote for and received grant funding totaling more than $200,000 from federal, state and local governments and also private organizations and foundations. This program just completed 19 years of continuous service.
Currently, I am the mentoring program's academic advisor and provide tutoring for the mentees twice a week, during the school year.
In addition to providing volunteer services in my church, I work with various community-wide organizations. As the charter historian of the Columbia Chapter International Continental Societies, Inc, (focusing on youth) I assisted in developing book fairs for under served youth in Howard County.
As Beta-Sponsor for the Alpha Delta Beta Chapter of Chi Eta Phi, (professional nursing sorority) I interact one-to-one with the nursing students at Howard University. As a volunteer nurse, I work at various health fairs, throughout the metropolitan area which provides a great service to the community. As a member of the Columbia Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc, I participate in a variety of volunteer activities. Currently, I enjoy my membership in the National Association of Parliamentarians and serving as the volunteer president, for the McCaskill Unit of Parliamentarians, is very exciting.
A number of people get out and see the world after they retire. Where have your travels taken you?
Traveling is one of my greatest pleasures. I have been to various countries in Africa, including Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana. I also toured Jerusalem, was baptized in the Jordan River, cruised the Mediterranean Sea as well as the southern and western parts of the Caribbean Ocean. Traveling to several cities in Europe was a productive /experience. Reading is also a favorite pastime. Belonging to a book of the month club challenges me to keep pace with the requirements.
As a widow of 12 years, I also live vicariously through my two wonderful children: Dr. Robert L. Miller Jr., a tenured professor at the University of Albany, in New York, and my daughter, Traci K. Miller, owner and founder of Tilmon Properties, a real estate and property management company.
The lessons learned from my parents and my maternal grandfather, Maj. Tom Gregg about living a committed life, have been very profound. Grandfather Gregg, born a slave in South Carolina, died a land owner and a business man who employed more than 100 people on his plantation. His race horses were his pride and joy. Grandfather Gregg, left a legacy of: "To whom much is given, much is expected." This adage continues to guide my philosophy about volunteering,
Because my life has been richly blessed, forever I will be grateful for parents who taught me the spirit of giving, as a means of remaining active while loving God, family, country, and learning/education.