Baylor Legacy Award: Matt & Dot Miller

October 1, 2015

Awarded to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary service and philanthropy to Baylor or to causes that fit our mission as a Christian university

Matt Miller, BBA '57, knows about providence. He was a senior at Waco High School in 1953 and a member of the school's baseball team. Waco was supposed to play Temple High School at Katy Park the day an F5-category tornado ravaged Waco--May 11, 1953.

"For some reason, they moved that game back to the prior week," Matt says. "So, I had the last period off. I got in my little car and left Waco High School at 2:30 or something like that."

Matt drove through a torrential downpour to his family's house on Herring Avenue. Soon thereafter, a man stopped in front of the Millers' house, honked and informed Matt that a tornado had hit Waco.

"I jumped in my car and drove back," Matt says. "I hadn't been gone 45 minutes. There was a line of big oaks down the esplanade between Ninth Street and the school. All those trees were snapped over, lying on the ground. The girl that was right behind me in my physics class, she was killed."

She was one of 114 Wacoans killed that day by the tornado, which Matt concedes completely changed the city.

"A major change," he says. "And it took a long time for it to recover."

It was the second time during his senior year in high school that Matt's life was affected by death of those around him. His father died earlier that year.

"When Dad passed away, it looked like it was the end of the world," Matt says. "Here's Mother, she's got a 17-year-old in high school, a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old. It was tough."

Oliver Winchell, who employed Matt's father, looked after the family and secured a job for Matt's mother with the school system.

"He took us under his wing," Matt says. "I've never been sure, but I've always had a suspicion that he had something to do with me getting a scholarship at Baylor. I don't know that, but thank the Lord."

Matt attended Baylor on a baseball scholarship, turning down offers from the University of Texas at Austin and Rice University, as well as one offer to play professionally. Admittedly a not-very-focused student during his first two years at Baylor, Matt knuckled down in his final two years to complete his accounting degree.

What followed was a brilliant business career during which time he worked--at various points in his career—for Coca-Cola and Proctor & Gamble.

By his side for most of that journey was his wife Dot, BBA '57 (née Abernathy). A native of Walnut Springs, Texas, Dot originally wanted nothing to do with Matt.

"I was an athlete," he says with a laugh. "She worked in the Registrar's Office. She just hated that we athletes always got to preregister, so we got the morning classes."

Although they were aware of each other while students at Baylor, their courtship began after graduation and while Matt was stationed in the Army at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. Initially, though, she rebuffed his attempts to pursue her.

"I was an independent soul," Dot says.

Nonetheless, the two were married in August 1959. Matt says Dot's support in the early years of their marriage made his professional success possible.

"I could never image what has happened to us over time," Matt says. "God has a certain plan for us in our lives; I know that."

The Millers say their shared background provided a bond in their marriage.

"We were exposed to the same education, and we had similar family backgrounds," Matt says. "We didn't have anything, and her parents didn't have anything. They scraped everything to be able to send her to Baylor. If it hadn't been for my scholarship, I probably wouldn't have gone to Baylor."

The Millers viewed it as important to give back to the school that provided a kick-start to Matt's successful career. Included in this was the establishment of The James Abernathy Endowed Scholarship in the Hankamer School of Business, named for Dot's late brother.

"As soon as we could see our way clear, we decided that we needed to do something to give back to what we got. That's really the reason," Matt says. "As the years have progressed, I've felt even more need to do something."

In the 1990s, the Millers' donations provided a new clubhouse and lights for Baylor's baseball program. However, perhaps the Millers most lasting contribution to Baylor Athletics is Baylor Ballpark, for which they are among nine founding donors.

"What we've done is not that much. But it got the baseball program out of the dark ages," Matt says. "I take a lot of pride in it. It's a special place for me. I saw almost every bolt that went into that stadium. I'm so proud that Baylor was able to be really the first one out of the chute for major renovations to their baseball stadium."

The Millers fondly remember the Baylor they attended--a smaller school on a smaller campus in a vastly different time--yet, they revel at where the University is now.

"Baylor has moved forward a long way," Matt says. "To think that school at one time was 6,000 people--bordered by Speight, Eighth, Fifth and Dutton--to see where it is now, it just boggles the mind. I think (President and Chancellor) Ken (Starr) has done really a wonderful job."