Salute to Charlie

One of Mount Gambier’s community heroes Rowley Charles Miller, known by many as Charlie, has passed away.

Mr Miller, 96, was a well-respected air force veteran who was known throughout the region.

The former World War 2 Spitfire pilot devoted his time to a host of community services, including volunteering with learning assistance at Melaleuca Park School, Rostrum, as a member of the Mount Gambier Chamber of Commerce, the Ryder Cheshire scheme and Legacy.

He was part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, where he established global and royal contacts, was a long-standing member of the Beefsteak and Burgundy Club and had a long association with Coonawarra wine makers, recognised for his great palate and love of quality local produce.

Mr Miller was involved with the establishment of the first Mount Gambier Library, the development and management of the Mount Gambier YMCA, had a key role in establishing the original ‘Green Triangle’ concept and was on the Mount Gambier High School Council, where he has a building named in his honour.

Mr Miller was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his lifetime of service, along with his dear friend of 75 years Jack Hopgood, who is 100 years old.

Mr Miller was born May 18, 1924 to parents John and Mary Miller and grew up in Melbourne. He was the eldest of three children. In 1942 on his 18th birthday, Mr Miller enlisted for World War 2. He became a spitfire pilot, trained other pilots and was discharged in 1946.

When Mr Miller returned home from war, he wanted to go to university to study science. Instead he stayed to help manage his family’s bakery, Miller’s Bakery, where he supplied bread to Mount Gambier and its surrounding towns five days a week. Mr Miller also generously donated lots of bread and baked goods to the community.

SERVICE: A young Charlie Miller in his Royal Australian Air Force uniform. Pic: State Library of South Australia, Arthur 1942

Mr Miller moved to his beloved Park Street in the early 1950s, where he and his wife, Lillian, built their family home on a block of land at number 16. They had three sons, Tony, Martin and Steven.

Mr Miller’s long-term neighbour Sharon Tuffnell and her family have shared many fond memories with their friend, including Mr Miller organising Christmas drinks with a few neighbours, which evolved into ‘street parties’ with the whole street, where Mr Miller would give his special ‘King of Park Street’ speech.

Mr Miller told Ms Tuffnell he always wanted to be a good citizen and to help the community in which he lived. He was renowned for his generosity, and his Park Street friends remember him coming to their doors to share his home-grown vegetables with them.

Ms Tuffnell recalls Mr Miller telling her earlier this year “my life has been really very exciting, it’s full of stories. I’ve had the most exciting life full of incidents of all kinds – tragedy, joy, excitement”.

“His impact on the community was huge. His personality, how much he gave and his cheeky grin.” Ms Tuffnell said. “He was so community spirited and minded.”

Mount Gambier RSL President Bob Sandow knew Mr Miller personally for more than a decade and said he had an enormous amount of respect throughout the region.

“He could talk to anyone. Every community needs a storyteller,” he said. “I could take Charlie to a school, he would talk to the kids and there would be utter silence in the room while he spoke.

“Charlie wasn’t a war hero. He was somebody that did the right thing and enlisted, survived the war, returned and did a lot for the community, which I believe built him into a community legend.”

Mr Miller was the RSL President in 1960 and, with his committee, managed the traditions and values that the RSL upholds. Every Sunday lunch, Charlie would go to the RSL and order a piece of fish and five chips.

“We’re going to miss Charlie,” Mr Sandow said. “Every community needs someone like Charlie, who just gets out there and makes things happen.”

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