Rep. Larry Miller dies, made his illness a cause for science

Rep. Lawrence G. Miller

Rep. Lawrence G. Miller

Rep. Lawrence G. Miller, R-Stratford, died Sunday after a battle with cancer, one that Miller publicly discussed a decade ago in advocating support for stem cell research and again in 2011 when he backed an effort to bank umbilical cord blood, a source of stem cells. He was 78.

Miller was diagnosed in 1998 with multiple myeloma and told that his life expectancy was three to five years. After autologous stem cell transplants in Arkansas, the disease went into remission, and he remained an active member of the House until becoming ill again earlier this year.

Miller, an active Catholic, gently chided the Church over its opposition to embryonic stem cell research in 2005, when the General Assembly endorsed a 10-year spending commitment on stem cell research.

“I’m a Roman Catholic, brought up in a parochial environment and all for years. Knights of Columbus, Sokol Hall,” Miller told the legislature’s Public Health Committee. “So it’s not like I’m taking a shot at the Church, but I think they’re wrong. There’s a mistake being committed here by the Church.”

Miller also used a folksy humor to make his case at the same public hearing.

I’m imploring you people to please pass this bill. Before I had the cancer, I looked like Brad Pitt. Right, Doc?” Miller said, addressing his friend, Sen. George “Doc” Gunther, R-Stratford. “And now look at me. I look like a politician for heaven’s sakes.”

When the bill passed months later, one of the backers, Rep. Lenny Winkler, R-Groton, praised Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the leaders of the Public Health Committee.

“But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Representative Larry Miller, who first brought us this idea a couple of years ago,” Winkler said. “And he certainly is living proof of the benefits of adult stem cells.”

In 2011, Miller again talked about his experience with stem cell transplants in Arkansas, this time to promote the collection of umbilical cord blood.

“So I had two transplants down there that have given me 13 years of life instead of five years they had originally said,” Miller told the Associated Press.

A spokesman for the House Republicans was unsure Sunday night if the cancer had returned.

A final legislative victory was the passage this year of a resolution long-sought by Miller: a declaration that Gustave Whitehead of Bridgeport as the first to achieve powered flight, not the Wright Brothers.

Miller was nominated last month for another term in the House. Miller was elected to the House in 1990 from the 122nd House District and represented Stratford, Shelton and Trumbull. He is survived by his wife, Mildred, and three children.

“Larry Miller was a great friend and colleague who was passionate about his job in the legislature and the issues most dear to him — the environment, housing for instance,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. “He was a pleasure to be around. He was passionate about life, about his children and his wife Millie.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered flags lowered to half-staff in Miller’s memory.

“Whether it was leading the charge to recognize Gustave Whitehead as the first in flight in our nation or advocating to enhance our state’s environmental and energy policies, Larry Miller worked in a bipartisan manner to support the interests of his constituents and the citizens of Connecticut,” Malloy said. “His presence will truly be missed in the Connecticut General Assembly.  Cathy and I send our condolences to his wife Mildred, his three children, and his constituents in the 122nd Assembly district.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who was co-chairman of the legislature’s Public Health Committee during the stem-cell debate in 2005, said he would never forget Miller’s role.

“Working with Representative Miller on that bill was an eye-opening experience that demonstrated to me just how well government can, and should, work when we’re able to come together despite our differences,” Murphy said. “Larry was a class act and a true friend.”

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