Town recalls pastor, officer

MILFORD – They called him a gentle giant, the "reverend with a gun" and even "pistol-packing pastor."

But it was clear that the people who filled the United Methodist Church last Saturday to say goodbye to Dana M i l l e r loved and respected him. Miller was 75 w h e n he died April 5. For 25 y e a r s , he was the pastor of the Milford First Baptist Church, and at the same time he was a part-time officer with the Milford Police Department. He served under four police chiefs. The last was retired Chief Fred Douglas, who told the full church that Miller had a superior ability to calm a tense situation.

"He had an incredible way of bringing something positive out of a tragedy," Douglas said. Retired Milford Police Capt. Richard Fortin said when he first met Miller in 1985, "I knew he was different, and only understood how different as I grew as a police officer and as a Christian." Fortin was Miller’s partner on Friday and Saturday nights. He remembered one night when they got a call for an officer in distress and arrived to find "a bad guy who looked as if he were going to throw the officer in the river. In one fell swoop," Miller had the man on the ground. "So many times I said, "Thank God for Dana.’ " Noting Miller’s "commanding presence, Fortin said, "It took me years to understand: That was not because he was a police officer, but because he was a man of God." Milford Ambulance Director Eric Schelberg also met Miller in the mid-1980s. He said Miller would go to the ambulance bay to just stop in, and on ambulance calls, "He would have our backs."

"When my children were young, they called him the ‘pistol-packing pastor,’ " Schelberg said. "And while he was always polite and compassionate, one stern look from him would turn an uncooperative patient into a cooperative one." Irwin Jenkins, a friend of Miller’s from the First Baptist Church, read emails from people who couldn’t be at the Saturday morning service, including Deborah Quinlan from the Smith & Heald Funeral Home, who said Miller dealt with grieving families better than anyone else.

He was a "towering figure with a gift of giving comfort where it was needed," she said. A few people offered personal stories. One man said he had been an alcoholic who didn’t treat people well until one Sunday he accompanied his wife to church, and "Dana’s sermon was directed at me. It changed my life." Miller also served as chaplain of Milford’s emergency services. Retired Fire Chief Richard Tortorelli said he was so beloved that the Fire Department made him an honorary member of the Milford Firemen’s Relief Association, the only person who ever earned that honor.

"After a horrible situation, we would rely on him for counseling," Tortorelli said. "We will sorely miss him," he said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.