Tom Miller, whose 40-plus-year UCLA career culminated as senior continuing lecturer in the communication department and award-winning director of the nationally recognized UCLA Speech and Debate team, died Jan. 21 in Los Angeles from complications related to COVID-19. He was 70.
“The department of communication lost a tremendously valued faculty colleague of more than 40 years,” said Paul Von Blum, senior lecturer emeritus in the department. “Tom Miller was the soul of UCLA debating. He always pursued the principle that reasoned argument was the foundation of the democratic process. He worked tirelessly to pursue that fundamental principle of rational discourse. He succeeded magnificently with so many of his distinguished debaters. Tom was the quintessential mentor.”
Miller was born on March 15, 1950, in Los Angeles. He discovered his love for music and literature while attending UCLA, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communication. He went on to earn his master’s in speech communication at Cal State Northridge. In 1979, he joined the UCLA Department of Communication as a lecturer and director of speech and debate activities. Under his guidance, the debate team has won nine national debate championships, participated in more than 200 tournaments and hosted teams from all over the world. Current and former students have shared their memories of Miller on social media, highlighting his role as a tireless advocate and dedicated mentor.
“We should also remember that Tom Miller was an excellent teacher,” Von Blum said. “Over the years, he taught numerous classes in the department, continuing his commitment to close contact with his students and encouraging extensive student discussion and participation. Above all, Tom always helped his students to speak clearly and with confidence. … UCLA has lost an iconic member of our community.”
In 2018, U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu acknowledged Miller’s distinguished teaching with the Certificate of Congressional Recognition.
Along with his many years of teaching and working with the debate program, Miller helped writer-director Douglas Day Stewart write a screenplay about a national championship debate team. It became the 1989 film “Listen to Me,” starring Roy Scheider. Miller also served as a technical adviser during filming.
During the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Miller served as a trial consultant.
His life could feel hectic at times, so he relished the simple pleasures — quality time with his son working on a new project, meditation and morning tea with his daughter and a meal in the garden with his wife.
An accomplished piano player and guitarist, Miller spent a year in India training with the Maharishi, which helped guide his spiritual enlightenment. He always emphasized a path of enlightenment with a certain zeal and humor, guided by what he called his “Nebraskan farmer’s work ethic.”
Miller is survived by his wife of 40 years, Linda, and his two children, Cameron and Courtney.