99 Years Strong
To someone who only knows his story, it’s hard to believe that Bob Miller turns 100 years old on October 29th of this year. His adventurous spirit, gregarious attitude, and impeccable Southern charm make him beyond approachable as a fun-loving guy. Featured in multiple publications for accomplishments such as his 75-year marriage and his devotion to Bays Mountain Park, this WWII veteran has umpteen tales to tell, beginning with how he met his wife and spanning to his career in chemistry that eventually led him to scour his heart for his deep connection to a simple hobby.
In 1937, Bob was entering his senior year of college. A bellboy by trade at the time, he became intrigued with a young woman, whose family was staying at the hotel he worked at. Her name was Doris. They started dating, and Doris even ended up attending the same Presbyterian college as Bob, entering in as a freshman. They both say that their faith is part of the reason they have such a strong bond, along with their plain old infatuation with each other; the Kingsport Times News even said, “Seventy-five years later, the honeymoon of Bob and Doris Miller is still going on.”
Bob, who holds a Doctorate degree in Organic Chemistry from the University of North Carolina, began his career in chemistry as the Assistant Instructor of Chemistry at Clemson, and, from there, moved on to hold the same title for two years at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. After that stint, however, the Navy dispatched him as World War II began and he served at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C. from 1942 to January of 1946. Originally from South Carolina, Bob returned home for a brief visit with respect to his brother’s wedding in 1943. There, he proposed to Doris, and they tied the knot on May 22, 1943.
Bob and Doris pride themselves on their vehement spirit, and rightfully so; they’ve spent their time together travelling, adventuring, and having fun. One of their many common interests includes flying, which is a joy they’ve shared together multiple times.
Bob Miller has been flying in all sorts of aircraft in his life, including, but not limited to: two separate hot air balloons (one in 1998 and one in 2017), a sailplane in the ’50s, two paragliding trips in Switzerland (1996 and 2003), and two autogiros (a type of helicopter-like rotorcraft) in 1935. Many of his more recent flights have been videotaped, including a powered parachute flight given to Bob on his 90th birthday by his friend Gary Darnell. Another gift from a friend included a 30-minute flight over Kingsport for him and Doris by Dan Pope, Vice President of Bell Helicopter in Piney Flats.
Bob and Doris live in Kingsport and they love this city. One of the ways Bob expresses his dedication is through Bays Mountain Park. He tells VIPSEEN that he wants to take any chance he can get to promote the park, calling it a “gem” and a treasure to the Kingsport area. Bob held the record for the oldest person to ride the Bays Mountain zip line until this year, riding it at ages 93, 96, and 99. He holds a deep love for the outdoors, relishes in adventure, and believes in staying active despite his age.
Miller began his hiking career while he worked at Eastman Chemical Company, through the Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club (TEHCC). While originating as a fun-yet-inexpensive hobby, Bob’s love for hiking only grew with age. His first “extensive outgoing with the TEHCC” was a backpacking trip to Rocky Mountains National Park for a whole week in 1975. He attended the hike with his daughter Nancy. He has since been overseas with the club where they took on two-weeklong treks in Switzerland, which took place in 1976 where the venture ended at a “rustic hotel” in Gruben. The second weeklong walk occurred in Great Britain and was a touring hike that took place in 1979 and hit spots in Wales, England, and Scotland. He hiked a weeklong trip in Yosemite National Park in 1983, totaling 60 miles. The first hike he trained for was a climb of Mt. Whitney, the “tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.” The extensive preventative training took six months, and he describes the trip as “the longest, most grueling day of my hiking career.” The group ended up hiking 11 miles in 13.5 hours.
In 1990, Bob joined the Old Timers Hiking Club in Johnson City, which meets every Monday and Wednesday all year round. Bob has since been a member, and he says the hikes the club takes are mostly 3-10 miles in length and take place within a feasible distance of the Johnson City area. A club accomplishment he prides himself on is his convincing the group to take a “two-week hiking and sightseeing outing to Switzerland” in 2001, which had a delightfully surprising turnout. Bob is a bit slower these days and doesn’t hike as much as he once did; however, he hasn’t let age stop him; Bob still leads one hike per quarter with the Old Timers Hiking Club so that he can control the duration and destination. He explains, “Typical recent hikes I have led are for 2-3 miles.”
Bob also shares that he once strived for a certain hiking badge called “Beyond 6000” at age 55, but he decided against it by age 82, after completing 30 of the 40 mountain peaks the badge requires the recipients to climb, explaining he “ran out of steam.”
Bob Miller, creeping up on his centennial birthday, has completed a great number of achievements even younger generations pine to earn. His devotion to both the Bays Mountain Park and the city of Kingsport shines through his actions. His remarkable 36 years of working at Eastman, his glimmering reputation as a gentleman and a flight-enthusiast, and his dependence on appreciating the beauty of life here in Tennessee all demonstrate characteristics to look up to. The kind of work ethic and idolizing qualities that exist in Bob Miller are truly remarkable.