WKU’s longest-serving professor, Mary Ellen Miller, dies

English Professor Mary Ellen Miller has been with WKU for 54 years and is now in transitional retirement. She is continuing to teach but is using her newly found free time to write a book of poetry. Miller said she intends to continue teaching as long as she can or “as long as they’ll have me.” 

Nicole Ziege

Mary Ellen Miller, WKU’s longest serving professor, died on Saturday, June 9, after a fall two weeks ago.

Robert Hale, head of WKU’s English department, said Miller had a fall earlier in the year and a second fall about two weeks prior to her passing. She was recovering at Greenwood Rehabilitation Center, and he said she seemed to be recuperating well.

“Professor Miller had an unparalleled, fifty-four-year career at WKU and transformed thousands of students’ lives through her intelligence, wisdom, and encouragement,” Hale said in an email. “She was an amazing teacher, an excellent poet, and a champion of the arts. I’ve never met a person with so many close friends from so many walks of life.

“She loved deeply and was deeply loved.”

President Timothy Caboni said he was saddened to learn about Miller’s death.

“I am thankful for having had the opportunity to get to know her as our University Poet Laureate,” Caboni said in an email. “Her student focus and creative talents will be missed. This is a tremendous loss for the entire WKU community.”

Miller’s death “is an enormous loss for the English Department, WKU, our region, and the arts community,” according to a statement the WKU English Department posted on its Facebook page. “She touched and transformed the lives of thousands of students and hundreds of friends. The English Department will share details about arrangements as they become available.”

Miller served the university for 54 years. She served as a faculty regent, published several works of poetry, co-founded the Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies, helped establish a writing contest in honor of her late husband, Jim Wayne Miller, wrote and produced a film and gained the admiration from many WKU students for half a century, as reported by the Herald about her legacy at WKU.

Miller grew up on a farm in Willard, a small community located in Carter County in northeastern Kentucky. She went to Berea College, where she graduated with an English degree. She taught in Indiana, at Fort Knox and Vanderbilt University prior to coming to WKU.

Throughout her half a century of teaching at WKU, she developed an unwavering teaching philosophy, which she described to the Herald:

“I prefer to teach with respect for what students already know–what they have acquired. I understand that some of them are better-prepared from their high schools. I understand that some of them are just downright brainier. But my philosophy is to treat them with respect, and I know they’ll treat me with respect.”

This post has been updated.

Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.