Susan “Sue” Miller, the matriarch of a family whose business and philanthropic enterprise has left an indelible mark on South Florida and, in particular, improved medical care, student life, and the study of Judaism at the University of Miami, died Thursday after a battle with cancer. She was 81.
“Sue Miller was an inspirational force in our community,” said UM President Julio Frenk. “Her tireless and passionate advocacy for educational opportunities helped lift and shape young minds. Her legacy, in particular through the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, will endure in the many lives touched by her generosity. The University of Miami family mourns her loss, and our hearts go out to her children Stuart, Leslie, Jeffrey, and the entire Miller family.”
Flags on the University of Miami campuses were lowered to half-staff Thursday to honor the legacy of Sue Miller.
The widow of the late Leonard M. Miller, former chair of UM’s Board of Trustees who built a prominent homebuilding company with an investment of his own capital, Sue Miller had become the torch bearer of her family’s boundless generosity after her husband passed away in 2002.
At the 2004 ceremony where the Millers announced their landmark $100 million gift to UM’s medical school, it was Sue Miller, in a moving speech, who paid tribute to her husband, recognized the many physicians, caretakers, and researchers for their commitment to humanity and the value they place on life, and urged the youngest members of her family to continue its tradition of philanthropy.
“We in this family know that the measure of one’s success is not the wealth accumulated,” she said. “It has nothing to do with shrines erected, nor records broken; it is the inner strength we build each day through hard work, through integrity, and the respect for our fellow man.”
The landmark gift, which renamed the school in Leonard Miller’s honor and was the largest ever to the University at the time, transformed Florida’s oldest medical school, helping it to achieve unprecedented levels of excellence in clinical care, biomedical research, and medical education.
“It would be hard to overstate the impact Sue Miller had on this campus and in this community,” said Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., MACP, interim dean of the Miller School of Medicine. “She was a wonderful friend of the Miller School, as was Leonard, and we are forever grateful for their support. Their efforts will resound for generations to come through our students, as well as the thousands of patients who come to the University of Miami for care.”
Steven M. Altschuler, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at the University of Miami and chief executive officer of UHealth – the University of Miami Health System, described her as “a matriarch of her family.”
“Sue Miller provided a shining example of service and commitment to our community, and she instilled that into everyone around her,” Altschuler said. “She will be deeply missed.”
In 1998, Sue Miller and her husband donated $5 million to establish the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies. Located on the Coral Gables campus, it is the first academic and research center in the United States that focuses on the issues that have affected the Jewish people in the 20th century and the challenges they face in the future.
At the 2003 dedication ceremony for the center’s new home in UM’s Merrick Building, Sue Miller called the center a vital component of UM’s campus tapestry. “Students must be armed intellectually against the backdrop of Holocaust denial, racists, bigots, and neo-Nazis,” she said. “We must keep our young students informed so they can help build an uplifting society.”
Longtime South Florida residents, the Millers came to Miami in 1954 as newlyweds following Leonard Miller’s graduation from Harvard. Both had grown up in Massachusetts. Soon after the young couple arrived in Miami, Leonard invested $10,000 into a small construction company that ultimately became Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s leading homebuilders and providers of residential financial services.
Over more than four decades, Sue and Leonard Miller built a distinctive style of philanthropy, inspiring many others to join them in making powerful commitments to improve the community. One of their most passionate causes was the South Florida Annenberg Challenge, now known as the Council for Educational Change, which works to raise the level of student achievement in public schools. Sue Miller served as a trustee of the council and chaired its Educational Advancement Committee.
A dedicated community advocate, she had always believed in fostering the spirit of giving, chairing the Miami Beach Community Campaign to benefit the United Way in her early days as a volunteer for the nonprofit charitable organization. Over time, she played an instrumental role in shaping the United Way of Miami-Dade’s leadership giving program. She was a founding member of the Tocqueville Society, established in 1991 to honor individuals who give $10,000 or more annually.
Sue Miller also founded United Way of Miami-Dade’s Women’s Leadership program, which has raised millions of dollars since its inception while mentoring young women as community leaders. Her work in the women’s leadership arena carried over to the national and international levels, as she once spearheaded and sponsored a leadership exchange between United Way of Miami-Dade and United Way of Jamaica. Her work on the education front, and specifically early education with United Way of Miami-Dade, took her to Washington, D.C. to advocate for increased funding for quality early education.
But it is Sue Miller and her family’s generosity toward UM that is arguably the hallmark of their philanthropic efforts. Among her family’s other notable gifts to the institution: In 2014, The Lennar Foundation, the Lennar Corporation’s charitable arm established by Sue Miller and her husband, gave a lead gift of $50 million to name The Lennar Foundation Medical Center, a state-of-the-art facility that brings the University of Miami Health System to UM’s Coral Gables campus. It will open in December.
The donation was one of the signature gifts of UM’s Momentum2 campaign. Last year, the Miller family propelled UM past the campaign’s $1.6 billion fundraising goal with a $55 million gift, the bulk of which—$50 million—is being used to build the new Miller School of Medicine Center for Medical Education. A ceremonial groundbreaking for the state-of-the-art facility was held earlier this year during a pre-inaugural ceremony for Frenk. During that event, her son, Stuart Miller, lauded his mother as a “primary driver of philanthropy” in his family.
“Both my mother and my father were extraordinary examples of how important it is to give, so a community can build,” he said.
The remaining $5 million of that $55 million gift was donated to the University’s Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music.
The Miller family’s generosity during the Momentum2 campaign also included a naming gift for the Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life for UM Hillel.
In all, Sue Miller and her family have given more than $200 million to the University, primarily to the Miller School of Medicine, the Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies, the School of Law, the Frost School of Music, and the Intercollegiate Athletics Program.
Sue Miller is survived by her three children—Stuart Miller (J.D. ’82), who followed in his father’s footsteps as chair of the UM Board of Trustees; Jeffrey Miller; and Leslie Miller Saiontz—11 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.