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Decatur H. 'Deke' Miller III

Decatur H. "Deke" Miller III was the former chairman and managing partner of the Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury, now DLA Piper US LLP.
Decatur H. "Deke" Miller III was the former chairman and managing partner of the Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury, now DLA Piper US LLP. (Baltimore Sun)

Decatur H. "Deke" Miller III, former chairman and managing partner of the Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury, now DLA Piper US LLP, who was also a philanthropist and patron of the arts, died Monday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications from lung cancer.

The Guilford resident was 82.

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"I thought Deke Miller was a great force for good in Baltimore and Maryland. He was one of the great unsung heroes in Baltimore," said former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"When I was mayor, I'd call him for advice, and he was always willing to tackle the tough jobs in the community," said Mr. Schmoke, who is now the president of the University of Baltimore.

"I've been very fortunate to have had a number of mentors in my life, and he was one of them. He helped guide me through the ups and downs of law school and in my early years as a practicing lawyer," recalled Mr. Schmoke, who began his legal career at Piper & Marbury while attending Harvard Law School.

"Deke was a great symbol in the legal field and a great symbol for so many organizations in Baltimore such as the Greater Baltimore Committee, Maryland Legal Aid, the Pratt Library and the Baltimore Symphony. A lot of lawyers get involved in civic organizations to get exposure to more legal business, but not Deke," said Shale D. Stiller, a longtime friend and partner at DLA Piper.

"He put his heart into these organizations. He thought it was his moral duty help the community in every way possible, and that's why he rose to the top executive positions of any organization he was involved with," said Mr. Stiller.

"He was probably my best friend. He and I started as young lawyers at Piper & Marbury. He was a wonderful lawyer who eventually headed the firm," said Mathias J. DeVito, former Rouse Co. president and chief executive officer who lives in Ruxton.

"He was a Renaissance man, a wonderful athlete and loved music," said Mr. DeVito. "He was a star in every way."

"Deke Miller was an indefatigable champion of the arts and letters and serving the poor," said Henry R. Lord, a retired attorney who was a partner at Piper & Marbury. "And he never sought recognition for this work, in fact, he turned away from it."

The son of L. Vernon Miller, a Piper & Marbury admiralty lawyer, and Katherine Baum Miller, a homemaker, Decatur Howard Miller III was born into a distinguished Baltimore family.

His great-great-uncle was Alfred Jacob Miller, the 19th-century Baltimore painter who was known for his paintings and sketches of the American West.

Mr. Miller, who was raised at 11 W. Cold Spring Lane, was a 1950 graduate of Gilman School. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1954 from Yale University where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

He served as a lieutenant in the Army from 1954 to 1956, when he enrolled at Harvard Law School. He earned his law degree there in 1959.

He began his legal career in 1959 as an associate at Piper & Marbury, where he remained until 1962, when he was named Maryland securities commissioner. He returned to the law firm in 1963 and was named a partner in 1967, a position he retained until 1994.

He was managing partner from 1974 to 1987 and chairman from 1987 to 1994.

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"Deke was a renowned corporate lawyer, with experience in finance, particularly underwritten public offering of debt and equity securities," said a DLA Piper US LLP announcement of Mr. Miller's death. He also had extensive experience on matters relating to Maryland corporation law as well as federal and state securities law.

"He was a smart lawyer who combined intelligence with intellect. He had good judgment and common sense, and those qualities are not found in a great many lawyers," said Mr. Stiller, who praised Mr. Miller's modesty. "The pronoun 'I' was not in his vocabulary."

"He had an extraordinary commitment to both the law and society and it really bloomed in Deke. He was a complete combination of both. He had impeccable judgment and always would do the right thing," said Mr. Lord, who lives in Bolton Hill.

"He had an elegant and generous spirit, and he led the firm by example. He was a paragon of integrity and drive, and that's why people had great respect for him. Piper & Marbury was who he was," said Mr. Lord.

Mr. Miller became a partner emeritus at the time of his 1995 retirement.

Mr. Miller's civic involvement through the years reached into every corner of the city's business, legal, cultural and educational life.

He was a director and later president of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He was a former director of the Empower Baltimore Management Corp., director of the College Bound Foundation, and trustee and later president the board of trustees of Calvert School.

He also served as a trustee of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Walters Art Museum, chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee and director of the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland foundations.

"He was responsible for bringing the wonderful Dr. Carla Hayden to Pratt as its director and bringing the library into the 21st century," said Mr. Schmoke.

He was also a member and later chairman of the Equal Justice Council of the Legal Aid Bureau.

"Even though he had all the privileges in life, Deke was always looking out for the little guy," said Mr. DeVito.

Mr. Miller's intellectual interests ranged from Chinese art to music to the Baltimore Colts. He enjoyed being a world traveler and attending the annual Bach Festival held in Bethlehem, Pa.

He was also a director of Pro Musica Rara and the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore.

"His interests were vast and he was passionate about them, and they were far-reaching," said his daughter, Clemence Mary Katherine "Clemmie" Miller who lives in the city's Lake Evesham neighborhood.

"He was a lifetime learner," said Mr. Lord. "He would saturate himself with new ideas and thoughts. He always wanted to know what you were reading and thinking."

Mr. Miller who had lived for years on Whitfield Road in Guilford, moved to the St. James Condominiums on North Charles Street in 2001, and was a member of the Elkridge Club, the Century Association, Elizabethan Club of Yale University and the Lawyers' Roundtable.

Plans for a remembrance gathering to be held on or about Mr. Miller's birthday June 29 are incomplete.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Miller is survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Sally Burnam Smith; a brother, L. Vernon Miller Jr. of Annapolis; and a grandson.

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