David Miller's community work started almost from the moment he moved to Plant City from New Orleans in 1982.
His employer, CF Industries, had asked him to oversee the company's phosphate shipping operations at the Port of Tampa.
Miller's wife had died a year earlier and he decided to make a fresh start. He was new in town and didn't know anyone. But he joined the First Presbyterian Church of Plant City in downtown, then the Rotary Club and the Elks. Before he knew it, he was meeting new friends, including his future wife, Emma.
Miller's decision to get on with his life still resonates. Now his passion is community service. His specialty: raising funds for worthwhile causes. It's a job that keeps him behind the scenes, but he likes it that way.
"He's a very humble man. He does things he doesn't like to take credit for," longtime friend Bruce Rodwell said. "He's always willing to help."
Which explains why Miller thought this year's YMCA Strong Leader Award should have gone to someone else. Told of the award in February by Mayor Mike Sparkman, also a Strong Leader Award winner, Miller thought the judges had made a mistake.
"I told him I thought it was a case of mistaken identity," the 83-year-old Plant City resident said.
But there he was last week, with Emma by his side, receiving a plaque at the annual YMCA Strong Leader Award banquet at the John R. Trinkle Center at Hillsborough Community College.
"I told them they'll only need 15 minutes for this year's banquet," he quipped.
The award is given yearly for community service. Miller easily has that covered given all the groups he's helped — from the Plant City YMCA to South Florida Baptist Hospital's new emergency room to the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce.
Ten years ago, Miller, helped raise $450,000 to relocate the chamber to the city's historic downtown, and he worked on two YMCA fundraising campaigns over the years — for youth programs and the association's $4.5 million, 28,500-square-foot building off Alexander Street.
Miller is also an elder at First Presbyterian and a board member at the United Food Bank of Plant City.
Miller himself was recently diagnosed with a form of blood cancer, but he reports the disease is now in full remission.
Recently, we posed a few questions to learn more about Miller:
You have accomplished much in life. How would you like to be remembered?
I guess I'd like to be remembered as a good and decent person who did his best not to hurt anyone and did his best to help anyone who needed help, and to make some contribution to the world. I've tried to. How good a job I did, that will be left to other people to decide.
Why have you been so involved in the community?
I guess I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from putting together a campaign for a worthwhile community effort, the sense of contribution, the sense of accomplishment that comes from making the community a bit better place.
Is there anything left on your bucket list, anything in life you would still like to accomplish?
Probably not. I'm very content with my lot in life. There's nothing out there for the moment, but if something did come along, an effort like these other efforts where I could contribute toward its accomplishment, I would probably get involved.
What's your favorite place in Plant City, or what do you enjoy doing most?
We have a social group in Walden Lake. We jokingly call it the Street People because it's made up of people from up and down the street. We like to get together at O'Brien's Irish Pub (& Grill) every Friday night. And we have a second group called the Saturday Night Dinner Club. Every Saturday night we go out to eat. I enjoy those groups immensely, the friendship and camaraderie.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would that be?
Well if it's anybody past or present. I would say my father. My father died in 1968, 44 years ago. I would like to sit down and talk to him again, and talk over some of those things that we didn't get to talk about because time slipped away. I also have an interest in military history and often thought it would be neat to talk to one of the luminaries of World War II, Patton or someone like that.
If you won the lottery what would you want to buy?
I can't think of anything I'd like. I'm satisfied with the house and everything we have. I can't think of any burning desire for anything. I've enjoyed life. I really have. I remember when I transferred here from New Orleans. My first wife had been dead about a year. I didn't want to leave, but I came here by myself and started a new life. When I came here, I demonstrated that a man cannot die of homesickness. I told each of my son-in-laws after their wives had died that the day they breathed their last, you start living the rest of your life. I moved on with my life and I met Emma, and look how that turned out. You move on with rest of your life. There's no going back.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.