A good friend and a great Iowan passed away recently. He died way too soon, and leaves a loving spouse, daughter and a large group of family, friends and colleagues to remember him and to celebrate his life.
His name was Dan Miller, and his last words to me were worth sharing. But first, a little about Dan.
Dan was known by many as a face and voice of Iowa Public Television. He was employed there for 37 years, ultimately serving as executive director and general manager.
At a recent memorial service, Dan was remembered as both dreamer and doer. Michael Gartner, a good friend, talked about Dan’s vision to create a multiple-channel statewide television network that informed, entertained and served Iowans. He credited Dan with almost single-handedly fulfilling that dream via his grasp of technology, his ability to raise money, his skill in navigating choppy political waters, and his unwillingness to accept “No” for an answer.
I came to know Dan through my wife Terri. Terri worked alongside Dan, Jennifer Konfrst and many others for a few weeks every year — for the past 28 years — asking viewers to support Iowa Public Television by making a pledge for a Red Green mug, a piece of Blenko glass, a ride on the Boone Scenic Valley Railway, etc. (Dan would like me to say here that you can make that pledge now by dialing 1-800-779-7000 or by going online to IPTV.org).
Dan’s last words to me were shared in the fall of last year, at a time when his battle with a horrible disease called Multiple System Atrophy had reached the point where he spoke very little, and was forced to communicate largely via his expressive eyes, limited facial movements and head nods.
During that visit to his care center room, Dan gave me one of those looks as we were leaving — the look that said “I want to say something to you”. I leaned into Dan and he worked hard to say these two words — “Keep Agitating.”
Only two words, but the message was powerful. I took them not only as an encouragement for me but as a rallying cry to “keep fighting the good fight” for all those who care about and advocate for a worthy cause — those who find themselves in the public policy arena speaking up for those who find it difficult to speak for themselves, and who take on the tough issues that need more visibility and debate.
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Dan spent enough time at the Capitol in Iowa and D.C. and in meeting rooms across this great state to know how frustrated advocates can get. He understood those who are the underdogs, who seek to upend the status quo, and who become disheartened by an inability to affect change.
While the dictionary defines “agitator” as a “person who stirs up people in support of a cause; often used in an unfavorable sense,” I don’t believe that Dan saw it that way. I think Dan saw “stirring it up” as a good thing, and those who do it as positive and essential.
I believe that Dan would say this to the “agitators” — don’t give in, don’t give up.
As a fitting tribute to Dan I encourage advocates everywhere — those who show up and speak up at meetings in city halls, school buildings, county courthouses, Capitols and all kinds of places in all kinds of forums — to take the Miller Pledge. Get out a piece of paper and write “Keep Agitating” on it. Say the words out loud. Keep that piece of paper in a prominent place. And when times get tough, look it and remember that your work is important, that you do make a difference, and that you need to keep fighting.
Dan Miller never gave up. He fought the good fight — for public television, and for a better Iowa.
We shouldn’t give up either.
• John Hale is co-owner of The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based consulting, advocacy and communications firm focusing on aging and caregiving issues. Comments: email@example.com