The Pro Bene Meritis award is the highest honor bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts. Since 1984, the annual award has been given to alumni, faculty members and friends of the college who are committed to the liberal arts, have made outstanding contributions in professional or philanthropic pursuits or have participated in service related to the college.
Education: Max Miller, B.S. Physics ’57, B.A. Math ’57, M.A. Math ’63 and Ph.D. Math ’66, The University of Texas at Austin
Sylvia Miller, B.A. History ’60, State University of California at Long Beach
Hometown: Alvarado, Texas (Max); and Centerville, Texas (Sylvia)
As director and national vice president of the Navy League National Board, and as the chairman of the Midshipmans Foundation, Max Miller has dedicated his life to providing support and scholarships for Navy ROTC students. Both Max and Sylvia have been active leaders in establishing the Department of Religious Studies and the Institute for the Study of Antiquities and Christian Origins, comprising some of the foremost scholars in the country.
How did you two meet?
We met at the University Avenue Church of Christ in 1956. We were both students at UT Austin, and two years later we were married and moving to Long Beach, California, where Max had been stationed in the Navy. We just had our 58th anniversary on September 13.
What’s your most cherished memory from UT Austin?
Sylvia: Football games. My daddy held the record for the longest continuous attendance at UT versus A&M games from 1921 to 1959. Max and I have had the same season tickets to the football and basketball games since the 1970s. We’ve been big supporters and enjoyed traveling to games in cities across Texas.
Sylvia & Max: We are also forever grateful for the lasting friendships made at UT, but perhaps the most cherished memory we have is the effort that went into helping establish the Department of Religious Studies.
Why do you support the liberal arts?
Max: I was a member of the Naval ROTC and struggled financially as an undergraduate, so Sylvia and I established two endowed scholarships for NROTC students through the Midshipmans Foundation.
Sylvia & Max: Religious studies crosses all lines, technical or otherwise, and we see that the department and the Institute for the Study of Antiquities and Christian Origins are a means to reach numerous students that may never have had opportunities to be exposed to religion, let alone its study by some of the world’s finest teachers.
Sylvia, what made you interested in studying history?
I’m a direct descendant of Mayflower passengers, and my great-great-grandfather was an original member of the Old 300 — the families that came with Stephen F. Austin to create the first colony in Mexico in 1825, an area that now makes up Texas.
On top of that, my daddy was a lawyer — he graduated from the UT Law School in 1927 — and his interest in history was passed on to me. I think we all should study history to learn about the past in order to make better decisions and judgments about the future.
Max, what advice would you give an NROTC senior who is about to graduate and serve active duty for the first time?
I tell all graduating NROTC midshipmen this: You will immediately be put in decision-making roles you never dreamed could happen. Enjoy the moment, have fun, do the right thing and learn from your experiences. You will always have fond memories and create lasting friendships.
How do you hope to see the college flourish in the coming years?
We think very highly of Dean Randy Diehl and believe the college is in good hands. We hope to expand the field of donors so that the Department of Religious Studies will have finances to hire top faculty and attract the best students in order to further enhance its academic recognition worldwide.
How do you spend your free time?
We spend most of our time with our two rescue dogs, Lizzie and Dolly. We found them at the Austin Lil’ Paws Maltese Rescue. They were a disheveled mess when we first met them, covered in fleas, but they won our hearts. Now they’re our alarm clock every morning, reminding us that it’s time for breakfast and their walk.