Dr. Joseph M. Miller Sr., 92, chief of surgery at Fort Howard VA center


Dr. Joseph M. Miller Sr., former chief of surgery at Fort Howard Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a World War II combat surgeon, died of arteriosclerosis Aug. 9 at the Glen Meadows retirement community in Glen Arm. He was 92 and formerly lived in Timonium.

Dr. Miller was born and raised in Yonkers, N.Y., and earned his bachelor's degree in 1931 from Columbia University. After graduating from Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1935, he completed his internship at St. John's Riverside Hospital in New York. He was a surgical resident at the Mayo Clinic from 1936 until 1940.

"He was a very religious person and thought that there were only two callings for him: He could either be a minister or physician. One tends to the needs of the soul, while the other the body. He chose the latter," said a son, Dr. Joseph M. Miller Jr., also a physician, of Kenner, La.

During World War II, he headed an Army field hospital unit in Okinawa and later in Korea, and at the time of his discharge in 1946 had attained the rank of major.

For 25 years, Dr. Miller was a familiar and highly respected presence at Fort Howard, where he was chief of surgery from 1946 until the surgical program ended in 1971.

Dr. Robert C. Bair, a retired surgeon who lives in Wellsboro, Pa., completed his surgical residency under Dr. Miller in the early 1950s.

"He was a strict taskmaster but a very good teacher. He also taught me how to be compassionate and warm to people," Dr. Bair said.

"He was technically a very fine, thorough and capable surgeon. He was just a good all-around general surgeon," he said.

An essential component of Dr. Miller's daily rounds was the "what if" question.

"On rounds, he'd give us a for-instance and then ask what we'd do if we got into trouble. If we didn't know the answer, he'd tell us. And he expected us to remember what he'd told us," Dr. Bair said.

Ida M. Devese, a retired registered nurse who lives in Catonsville, worked with Dr. Miller from 1949 until 1972.

"All of his residents never had any trouble passing the state medical boards in surgery," Mrs. Devese said.

"He was also very innovative and started one of the first intensive care units in the area at Fort Howard in 1963. In the late 1940s, he also established the surgical residency program at the hospital," she said.

He was also an innovator in the operating room.

"He was always looking for ways to help people. A man was brought in one day who had been given a dose of lye. He had swallowed it and it had seriously burned his esophagus," Mrs. Devese said.

"Dr. Miller brought up a piece of his intestine, which he connected to the top of the esophagus. By the time the man left the hospital, he was eating and drinking. We never heard from him again, so he must've been OK," she said.

Dr. Miller and his family lived on the grounds at Fort Howard, "and whenever there was an emergency on the post, he was always there to help," Mrs. Devese said.

In 1971, Dr. Miller became director of medical education at the former Provident Hospital on Division Street, which later became Liberty Medical Center, where he established the physician's assistant training program. He retired in 1987.

Dr. Miller was a member of the teaching staff at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.

A prolific contributor to medical journals - he wrote 562 articles during his lifetime - he also contributed frequently to The Sun, where he wrote widely on medical issues.

He was an avid collector of American stamps from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Dr. Miller was married for 53 years to the former Mary Alice Case, who died in 1993.

He was an elder of Sparrows Point Presbyterian Church and since 1969 had been a member of Havenwood Presbyterian Church in Timonium, where services were held Monday.

In addition to his son, he is survived by two other sons, Dr. K. Scott Miller of Mount Pleasant, S.C., and John M. Miller of Wake Forest, N.C.; a daughter, Dorcas S. Miller of Chelsea, Maine; and seven grandchildren.

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