In Memoriam: Frank J. Miller (1940-2016)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

We are deeply saddened to inform the community that Frank J. Miller, Professor of Russian Language at Columbia University, passed away on January 24 after a long and courageous battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 75.

Professor Miller devoted his entire life to studying, teaching, and writing about the Russian language. A graduate of Florida State University (1962), he received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1976 with a dissertation on the folklore of the Stalin Era. He taught at the University of South Carolina (1972-77), Bryn Mawr College (1977-78), and Colby College (1978-85) before embarking on his legendary career at Columbia University in 1985. Frank was a vital member of the Columbia Slavic Department for thirty years, down to his very last day, teaching language—and language teaching—at every level, directing the Russian language program for decades, and chairing the department from 1994 to 1998. He was a long-term colleague of the Russian School at Middlebury, served as president of AATSEEL in 1999-2000, and was the recipient of the Hettleman Award for Distinguished Teaching and Service at Columbia University in 1988 and the AATSEEL Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1996.

A prolific author, Frank was endlessly fascinated by the beauty and subtleties of the Russian language. His Handbook of Russian Prepositions and Handbook of Russian Verbs became classics.  But his magnum opus will remain the three volumes of Russian language textbooks, Beginner's Russian, В Пути: Russian Grammar in Context, and Russian: From Intermediate to Advanced, all written in collaboration with Professors Olga Kagan and Anna Kudyma. He also wrote dozens of articles and book reviews and never missed an AATSEEL conference.

However distinguished, Frank’s scholarship always came second to his teaching. He lived for the classroom, for interaction with students, and they in return adored and respected him. His enthusiasm was contagious, as were his laughter and the jokes he liked to tell. He trained and inspired several generations of Russian scholars, leaving his most enduring imprint on the field through them.

Frank was a remarkable human being, a model of kindness and caring, always ready to listen and sympathize, to understand and respond, and simply be there for a friend in need. His was the exemplary life of a man who gave generously of himself, who was utterly devoted to his teaching and his students. It is impossible to imagine that he is gone, that the door—always open to colleagues, students, and friends—is now closed for good.  We will miss you, Frank! Rest in peace.

A memorial service was held in his honor at Columbia University on April 29, 2016. 

Valentina Izmirlieva, Chair, Dept. of Slavic Languages
on behalf of his colleagues and friends at Columbia University