(JAMAICA OBSERVER) — Legal luminary Crafton Stephen Miller is not even thinking of a water break as he moves on from 90 to a score that will take him further into life’s record books.
So you can expect the Excelsior High School alumni to be at the batting crease for much longer as he manoeuvres the tricky balls, plays straight to the ones which deserve that treatment, and be brutal on those which need to be dispatched with aplomb.
For the father of five who turned 90 officially on May 18 [although his registered date of birth is June 18, 1930], Miller’s life is largely backgrounded by cricket, the game that he played so well while he was at Excelsior, studying in England, and when he led Clarendon-based Sevens’ Sugar Estate [now defunct] in local competitions as an all-rounder. He also left his mark on the sports of football, boxing, and athletics.
Jamaica’s oldest practising barrister-at-law, and attorney-at-law, who is licensed to operate in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the wider Caribbean, continues to force heads to bow in approval, following his lead role in victory at the Court of Appeal for the National Commercial Bank (NCB) Staff Association over NCB in the matter of a profit sharing agreement, one of several huge cases that he has won. Final agreement of that matter could see workers at Jamaica’s largest financial institution getting in excess of $1 billion in compensation, assuming that NCB does not take the case to Jamaica’s final appellate court— the UK Privy Council.
But for Miller, eyeing the century on Earth, too, is not the only milestone that is lurking in the woods. The simple matter of his attaining 50 years as a practising lawyer is near, having gone 48 thus far.
It almost did not happen though.
Had his mother, who lived to the age of 98 years and eight months, decided to follow the advice of a doctor and abort her 14th [and eventually last] child, not even a paragraph of Miller’s illustrious history would have been written.
“When my mother was expecting me, the doctor told her that she was taking a big risk to have another child, and suggested she does an abortion. She, a Christian woman, walked from the doctor’s office, vowing death before dishonour, and had her child with the help of her mother, who was a midwife,” Miller told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last mid-week.
Growing up in the community of Dalton, St Elizabeth, Miller learned the importance of discipline from early, for any transgression by him would result in a beating from his cattle farming dad, and there were no neighbours close by to run to if the onslaught got peppery.
By the turn of the 1940s, he was at Excelsior, where he sat the Senior Cambridge examination, and took off for England in search of better opportunities. There were several milestones by the 1950 ushered in, among them to be the first black man to work in the civil service in his region of North London, where he founded the UK Coloured Citizens Association, at a time when racism was rampant and unrelenting.
Completing his ‘A’ levels at North West Technical College, he later got a scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s degree in economics that prepared him to also excel in tax administration and related matters.
Returning to Jamaica in 1964 with his family on a banana boat, he lived in Mona at a refurbished 28 Palmoral Avenue, which he initially refused, but took it after spending three weeks in a hotel. His adventure in Jamaica’s the civil service was uneasy, as he found a lot of jealousy there, perhaps because of the higher salary that he was getting than most, and the perquisites, including housing, that came with the job.
It was his frustration surrounding the jealousy that forced him to apply to Canada for a job, got it, but changed his mind after considering that his wife at the time would be bothered by the cold. So off he was to Seven’s Estates, a move that would change his life forever.
A four-year scholarship from Seven’s to complete his law degree at Inns of Court ended in under a year, as years before, he had completed enough courses while he was in England, to finish the job. He was later admitted to Lincoln’s Inn.
One of Miller’s signature moments was succeeding Dr Marshall Hall to become chairman of the board of governors of Kingston College, the first non-KC man in the modern era to hold such a position. It was a frosty 10 years in the chair as some old boys who disagreed with his style of leadership wanted him out, and did not hold back words in expressing that sentiment. At the end of that decade, it was time for Miller to move on and pass the baton to Professor Stephen Vasciannie, but his steely resolve in the end gained respect from some of those who thought he should not have sat on the board in the first place.
A servant of the disciplinary committee of the General Legal Council for 27 years, Miller was at the forefront of fund-raising efforts to find a home for the General Legal Council, and the Jamaican Bar Association, copping the President’s Trophy among the awards and accolades, for his energetic efforts.
A staunch member of the Church of St Margaret’s in Liguanea, St Andrew, Miller also advises the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. He being a Freemason, Miller sat as Past Master of Scottish and English Lodges in Jamaica, adding to his heavy and hectic schedule of voluntary and professional activities which included lecturing at the Norman Manley Law School, and taking on legal matters on behalf of those who could not pay for the service up front.
He has an enviable record of philanthropy, being involved with projects to benefit his alma mater Excelsior High; as well as students of Munro College, Black River High, and Hampton High, all in St Elizabeth where he also established a branch of his law firm, Crafton Miller and Company, along with his three daughters – Pauline, Clare, and Vivette – all of whom became lawyers, though, to his family’s horror, Pauline died in a motor vehicle accident in 1985 at Rose Hall, Montego Bay.
Sons, engineer Crafton Miller Jr, whom his dad says now refers to himself as Crafton Miller II, and Arnold “Jerry” Miller, though not following him into the profession are equally dear to his continued success, and stay close to him.
As to what keeps him going, Miller puts it down to his strong belief in, and fear of God; eating ground provisions especially from his home garden, consuming lots of fish, drinking “lots of water”, and the relationships that he has had with first wife Vivan Eleanor, who died of a rare disease at age 62 after 39 years of marriage, and his present wife Juliet.
The gift of family longevity has spread across his brothers and sisters, as most lived into their eighties, and only one died earlier at age 72. Additionally, his elder sister Daisy is still going strong at age 93. “She lives in England and you want to see how she functions. She is always up and about. We speak often and she is in good health. For me though, I am giving God thanks for making it to 90. I am on the highway of life,” said the Governor General’s Achievement Award winner for Kingston in 1996, who confessed to running up the stairs at his downtown Kingston office when he is in the mood, and remains in good physical shape through light exercising.
“Feel this,” he said during the interview, pointing to his firm left bicep – summing up a physical structure that is up and about and purposefully active.