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Garland J. Millet (1913-2008)


On February 23, 1913, Garland J. Millet, was born in Oakland, California. He passed peacefully to his rest at his home in Huntsville, Alabama, on Sunday evening, September 7, 2008.  Dr. Millet was a shining example of a servant leader and stayed on the firing line for Christian education for over 70 years. 

After high school, the first African-American teacher in the Berkeley public school system tried to convince Garland to attend the University of California, Berkeley, but as a believer in Christian education, Mrs. Millet insisted that Garland attend Pacific Union College, a decision for which he has always thanked and praised his mother. At PUC, he began his lifelong friendships with Elder G. Nathaniel Banks, Mrs. Inez Lang Booth, the late Norman McCleod, and the late Dr. Carl Dent.

Garland graduated from Pacific Union College with a B.A. degree in History in 1934, and an M.A. in 1947. From 1934 to 1936, Professor Millet taught English and Mathematics, and served as a men’s dean, at Oakwood Junior College, where one of his students seemed particularly “outstanding” -- Ursula Bernice Berry, from his home church – Market Street SDA -- in Oakland, California. They were married in 1937.

Garland took his new bride to Washington, D.C., where he served as Principal of the Union Academy from 1937 to 1941. In 1942, he returned to Oakwood as librarian and instructor of English. He next taught in the Los Angeles Academy from 1944 to 1949, followed by five years of pastoring in the Southern California Conference, at the Delaware Avenue and Berean SDA churches. He was ordained to the gospel ministry at Lynwood, California in 1952.

In the spring of 1954, Elder Millet was invited to become the fifth President of Oakwood College, succeeding Elder Frank L. Peterson. During his nine-year tenure, student enrollment doubled, the number of faculty grew to 55, the number of faculty with doctoral degrees increased from one to eight, and 13 buildings were constructed including Peterson Hall, the Ashby Auditorium, Anna Knight Education Building, the original market/bakery structure, and several faculty cottages. The annual Faculty Colloquium was introduced, along with the student Honors Convocation and the Three-Way Scholarship Plan. Under his leadership, accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools was granted on December 4, 1958. In 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited the campus and addressed the community in 1962.

After leaving Oakwood in 1963, Dr. Millet served as consultant for Brown Engineering, and taught classes at Alabama A&M University. In 1965, he received the Ph.D. degree from Vanderbilt University’s George Peabody College. From 1964 to 1966, he served the triple roles of Assistant to the President of Fisk University, as an Associate Professor at Fisk, and as Pastor of the Riverside Chapel Seventh-day Adventist® Church. From 1967 to 1970, he served as the third African-American editor of the Message Magazine.

At the 1970 General Conference session in Atlantic City, Dr. Millet was elected as the first African-American worker in the Department of Education. He served for eight years as an Associate Director, coordinating overseas higher education evaluations, edited The Journal of Adventist Education, and issued, with supporting committees, (1) A Review of Seventh-day Adventist Nursing Education, (2) “Seventh-day Adventist Concepts of Psychology,” and (3) "Christian Education—Values Needed Now.” He also served on the Oakwood College Board of Trustees for some 20 years. He was presented with the Department of Education’s highest award, the Medallion of Honor, at the 1990 General Conference Session in Indianapolis.

During 1978 to 1982, he served as a Special Assistant to the President of Loma Linda University. One of his tasks was to encourage more black and other non-white employment at Loma Linda University and Medical Center, which together comprised one of the world’s largest Seventh-day Adventist institutions. During his three years of service, the total number of black employees grew and 27 black teachers were invited to teach at the University. Approximately 60 invitations were extended to all other ethnic minorities.

Garland enjoyed traveling – either for business with the General Conference, or for pleasure with his beloved wife Ursula. Two of the highest points in their travels together were a trip to the 1975 General Conference Session in Vienna, Austria, and another trip to the Hawaiian Islands in 1989, which he considered for them a “second honeymoon.”

After his “retirement” to Huntsville in 1982, for a brief term in 1983, Dr. Millet participated at Bethel College in The Transkei, South Africa in a faculty exchange program with Oakwood College. Between 1984 and 1990, he taught occasional classes in Principles of Christian Education and the Gift of Prophecy at Oakwood College, and was awarded the General Conference Department of Education’s Medallion of Distinction in 1990. As a firm supporter of Christian education, he was a charter member, and served as the second president, of the Committee of 100 for Oakwood College.

Dr. Millet lived to see the first African American presidential nominee, and outlasted elevator attendants, streetcar conductors, segregation and the days when a real person used to answer the telephone. He had been married to his beloved “Urs” for 70 years when she passed away on January 13, 2008.


Official Obituary

Edson White’s ministry on the “Morning Star” on the Mississippi River resulted in the baptism of Cynthia Gertrude Johnson, in Yazoo City, Mississippi, who later attended “the Huntsville school.”  She had the privilege of hearing Ellen White in person, and would later tell her children how Mrs. White’s voice had rung out as she read Scripture:  “Let not your heart be troubled. . . .”

In 1908, Cynthia married Oliver Andrew Millet in Pasadena, California, after leaving their homes in Louisiana and Mississippi, respectively.  They moved to Oakland, California where their home was blessed with the birth of three sons:  Oliver, Arthur and Garland.  As the youngest child, he was appropriately given the family nickname “Babe.” Even though his little sister Sara Ann was born several years later, the name stayed with him throughout his life. After Ann was born, the family moved to Pacific Grove, to a home just down the road from the famous Del Monte golf course (more widely referred to as Pebble Beach).  Sadly, Arthur met with a fatal swimming accident in 1926, and four years later, the Millet’s returned to live in Oakland.   Mr. Millet’s popularity as a porter/host on the Southern Pacific Railroad that the lounge car on which he served for 38 years was named “Oliver Millet” when he retired.  He was the only employee ever to have a car named for him.

When Garland had finished University High School, the first African-American teacher in the Berkeley public school system tried to convince him and his mother that Garland should attend the University of California, Berkeley.  But as a believer in Christian education, Mrs. Millet insisted that Garland attend Pacific Union College, a decision for which he has always thanked and praised his mother.   At PUC, he began his lifelong friendships with Elder G. Nathaniel Banks, Mrs. Inez Lang Booth, the late Norman McLeod, and the late Dr. Carl Dent.

Between school sessions, Garland worked as a porter on the Southern Pacific Railroad, developing his cordial manner in greeting and serving people. Garland graduated from Pacific Union College with a B.A. degree in History in 1934.  His first post in denominational work was from 1934 to 1936, where Professor Millet served as a men’s dean, and taught English and Mathematics, at Oakwood Junior College.  One of female students seemed particularly outstanding.   He used to say with a chuckle that Ursula Berry, from his home church (Market Street SDA, Oakland, CA), did very well in the “romance languages” section of the curriculum.   They were married on July 22, 1937, a few months after the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge, when a gallon of gasoline cost only ten cents!

Garland took his new bride to Washington, D.C., where he served as Principal of the Union Academy from 1937 to 1941.  Their son, Garland, was born in Washington in 1938.  The young couple sacrificially coped with rearing a young baby during the Great Depression.  Herself a teacher, Ursula followed Garland in the vicissitudes of an Adventist worker’s wife.  In 1942, they returned to Oakwood where Professor Millet served as librarian and, again, as an instructor of English. Their home was once more blessed with the birth of a baby, this time a daughter whom they named Carol.

The Millets returned to California in 1944, where Professor Millet next taught in the Los Angeles Academy from 1944 to 1949, followed by five years of pastoring in the Southern California Conference, at the Delaware Avenue and Berean SDA churches.  Garland received his M.A. degree in English from Pacific Union College in 1947.  He was ordained to the gospel ministry at Lynwood, California in 1949.

In the spring of 1954, Elder Millet was invited to become the fifth President of Oakwood College, succeeding Elder Frank L. Peterson.  During his nine-year tenure, student enrollment doubled, the number of faculty grew to 55, the number of faculty with doctoral degrees increased from one to eight, and 13 buildings were constructed including Peterson Hall, the Ashby Auditorium, the Anna Knight Education Building, the original market/bakery  structure, and several faculty cottages.  The annual Faculty Colloquium was introduced, along with the student Honors Convocation (which, by the way, was his son Garland’s idea) and the Three-Way Scholarship Plan.  President Millet traveled all over the country with the College Choir and Aeolians, and one time, even took his turn driving the bus.

Dr. Benjamin Reaves, former president of Oakwood College, remembers his first exposure to President Millet’s energetic and down to earth persona. "One of the wonders for the students was the never seen before scene of the College President on the basketball court. He was not a casual curious observer. He was a fully involved participant in the game who could hold his own. We soon learned he did not expect any special treatment and he had no intention of giving any. On the court it was every player for himself. It was a refreshing experience to see the interaction on the court that in no way detracted from respect off the court."

Dr. Reaves was in The Cathedral Quartet during the 1954-55 school year, who "traveled with the President giving concerts across the country. He was always an encourager, expressing appreciation for the positive PR and funds we were generating for the College."  One of the trips was to New York City when they were invited to appear on the television program “Strike it Rich.” At the time of the telecast Dr. Millet arranged for a television to be placed in Moran Hall with an antenna on the roof so the entire student body could watch us as we struck it rich winning enough money to provide robes for the College Choir.

Mrs. Millet served administrative secretary to the President for a time, but had to cut back on her schedule when their second daughter, Debra was born in 1956.  Under President Millet’s leadership, Oakwood College received its original accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools at 10:30 a.m. on (Debbe’s second birthday) December 4, 1958.  In 1962, since no other venue in the city of Huntsville would open their doors to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Millet consulted with the Board of Trustees by telephone, and permitted Dr. King to address the community at the Ashby Auditorium.  Dr. Millet's youngest daughter Debbe  She remembers her first few years growing up on Oakwood's campus.  "It was a very special time," she said.  "There was a sense of family, because just about the entire faculty lived on, or close to, the campus, and the student body wasn't any more than 300 people."

After leaving Oakwood in 1963, Dr. Millet served as consultant for Brown Engineering, and taught classes at Alabama A&M University.  In 1965, he received the Ph.D. in Educational Administration degree from Vanderbilt University’s George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville.  From 1965 to 1967, he served the triple roles of Assistant to the President of Fisk University, as an Associate Professor at Fisk, and as Pastor of the Riverside Chapel SDA Church.  From 1967 to 1970, he served as the third African-American editor of the Message Magazine.  It is believed that his interest in golf started while he lived in Nashville.  Many an early Sunday morning was spent on the golf course with his friends Carl Dent, Melvin Lightford, and Luke Dixon.

At the 1970 General Conference session in Atlantic City, Dr. Millet was elected as the first African-American worker in the Department of Education.  He served for eight years as an Associate Director, coordinating overseas higher education evaluations, editing The Journal of Adventist Education, and issuing, with supporting committees, (1) a review of SDA nursing education, (2) “Seventh-day Adventist Concepts of Psychology,” and (3) Christian Education—Values Needed Now.”  He also served on the Oakwood College Board of Trustees for some 20 years.  He was presented with the Department of Education’s highest award–the Medallion of Honor--at the 1990 General Conference Session in Indianapolis.

In 1978, he accepted the call from the president of Loma Linda University to become a Special Assistant to the President.  His responsibilities and research laid the groundwork for the University’s diversity initiatives.  One of his tasks was to encourage more black and other non-white employment at Loma Linda University and Medical Center, which together comprised one of the world’s largest Seventh-day Adventist institutions.  During his three years of service, the total number of black employees grew and 27 black teachers were invited to teach at the University.  Approximately 60 invitations were extended to all other ethnic minorities.  He was selected as an outstanding Alumnus of Pacific Union College in 1994, one of the first African-Americans to receive this honor. 

The Millets retired to Huntsville in 1982.  For a brief term in 1983, Dr. Millet participated in a faculty exchange program with Oakwood College, and taught briefly at Bethel College in The Transkei, South Africa.  Between 1984 and 1990, he taught occasional classes in Principles of Christian Education and the Gift of Prophecy at Oakwood College, and was awarded the General Conference Department of Education’s Medallion of Distinction in 1990.  As a firm supporter of Christian education, he was a charter member, and served as the second president, of the Committee of 100 for Oakwood College.   Reaves said that "In his later years during the time of my tenure as President I found him to be a supportive, counselor, and colleague not just concerned about the continued progress of the college, but also willing to promote, and raise funds for the institution we both loved.” 

After having endured his share of racial-related incidents in the South, Dr. Millet lived to see the first African American presidential nominee—for whom he did have advice— and outlasted segregation, elevator attendants, and streetcar conductors.  He had been married to his beloved “Urs” for 70 years when she passed away in January, 2008.   His family believes that his grief after Mrs. Millet’s death was part of the reason he simply said, “That’s enough,” when reminded that he was 95 years old.  He passed away peacefully at his home on September 7, 2008.

His presence will be missed in the Oakwood community.  Dr. Millet’s son Garland is also an educator, in the field of one Dr. Millet’s favorite subjects, history. Dr. Millet’s daughter Debbe currently works in the Public Relations Office at Oakwood University. His grandson Dr. Wayne Bucknor is on the faculty in the Music Department.  Dr. Millet’s niece Mrs. Jeannie Watkins has been an important staff member in the President’s Office for several years.

Because of Dr. and Mrs. Millet’s legacy of service to Oakwood, President Baker announced at Dr. Millet’s memorial service that a $10,000 contribution would be made by the University to the Garland J. and Ursula B. Millet Endowed Scholarship Fund.  For more information, contact the Office of Advancement and Development.

As Dr. Reaves said, we “Thank God, for the life he [Dr. Millet] lived, the difference he made and the promise of reunion in God’s tomorrow."