By Ellie Bowen
Former Stanford provost William F. Miller died at the age of 91 on Wednesday, Sept. 27 in Palo Alto.
Miller served as provost from 1971 to 1978 and was also a founding member of Stanford’s computer science department. As a pioneer in the field, Miller was one of the first to apply computational strategies to business throughout the world, from Silicon Valley to Asia. During his career, he worked as a business leader, nonprofit founder, wildlife conservationist and government advisor. Miller also served as a faculty member, provost and acting president under former university president Richard Lyman.
“Bill was a great university citizen whose influence at Stanford and in Silicon Valley has been remarkable,” said John Hennessy, former Stanford president and director of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program, in an interview with Stanford News. “He led SRI [the Stanford Research Institute] through a critical period of expansion and diversification and was an early advocate and champion for building bridges and collaborations among the countries and companies on the Pacific Rim.”
Miller devoted a large part of his academic and business career to making scientific research more systematic and mathematical. After joining Stanford to head the computation team at SLAC in 1964, Miller expanded research in the cutting edge field of computational science and experimental data interpretation, encouraging Stanford to invest in the field as an early predictor of its importance in both academia and industry.
Since his retirement from active teaching in 1997, Miller continued to be active in the Stanford community and in research. At age 84, he co-authored his last research article with Charles Eesley, which analyzed the economic impact of Stanford’s innovation and entrepreneurship.
Besides his accomplishments in research and business, people close to Miller also described him as a generous man.
“Bill and his wife fostered two orphan children who had cystic fibrosis,” said Patricia Devaney, associate dean of research, emerita. “He gave away more than half of his wealth to charitable causes long before it became fashionable to do so. He was an astute judge of people and showed an extraordinary spirit of generosity with his time, help, money and wise counsel to so very many people.”
Miller and his wife Patty, who passed in 2008, were also avid wildlife conservationists and nature photographers.
Miller worked as provost during some of the most foundational moments in Stanford’s history, facing events as varied and challenging as student Vietnam war protests to the founding of Stanford’s computer science department.
“Meeting with him was like touching a very important part of Stanford and Silicon Valley history,” Eesley told Stanford News. “The high standards that he held himself to, and the excellence to which he strove made me realize the type of extremely high-quality, diligent people who helped make Stanford what it is today.”
Miller is survived by his son, Rodney, and daughter-in-law, Olivia Miller, of Redwood City; and his brother, James L. Miller, a farmer in Vincennes, Indiana.
Contact Ellie Bowen at ebowen ‘at’ stanford.edu.