Remembering Dr. Wesley Miller, a Pioneer at the University of Minnesota

Dr. Wesley Miller was quiet at times, but when he did speak, he was worth listening to.

“He was an excellent listener,” said Dr. John Bantle, one of Miller’s close friends, and a former colleague at the University of Minnesota. “He was extremely insightful and the definition of integrity. If he got into something, he didn’t do anything halfway. He did it intensively.”

Miller passed away peacefully at his home on July 15 at the age of 71 after a battle with cancer.

Miller was considered a pioneer at the University of Minnesota for his work in bone marrow and stem cell transplantation. He worked there for more than 40 years and was an early proponent of evidence-based medicine, according to the Minneapolis Star TribuneNot only that, he transformed the way the university trains and mentors upcoming physicians, many of whom still work at there today.

Friends, family and former colleagues who knew him said his death has impacted everyone he knew.

“It was an enormous loss,” Bantle said. “He was a good friend, fun to be with and an overall great person. I feel an enormous loss.”

Miller was born and raised in Joliet, Ill. He graduated from Macalester College, St. Paul and the University of Illinois Medical School before completing his residency at the University of Minnesota. He then joined the hematology faculty and specialized in blood disorders and marrow transplants. He also met his wife Nancy there, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who was working as a junior scientist in the hematology lab. Together they had three sons.

The compassion Miller had for people shined through in his work with patients and his work with students. Dr. Phillip McGlave told the Star Tribune that Miller’s clinical care was instrumental in the university’s marrow transplant program. An advocate for evidence-based practices, Miller enjoyed learning and teaching. He also had a special bedside manner that allowed him to support patients through their transplants during a time when there was a high mortality rate for leukemia and lymphoma patients.

He also stepped up when he was selected to head the University of Minnesota’s Department of Medicine in 2009. It came during a time of financial hardship, Bantle said, but he said Miller was fair and smart in his approach.

“He had a difficult challenge trying to cut expenses and make the books balance,” he said. “He was extremely fair. He did his best to make sure everything was right across the board, in a way that you could see was fair.”

Beyond his incredible work in the classroom and the clinic, Miller was a wonderful friend, husband and father. Bantle said he and several other physicians started a tennis club that met once a week for 25 years. They would play a few games before grabbing a beer and a burrito. Through those games, the two became fast friends and often traveled together.

It’s how Bantle got to know the man behind the medicine: The man who loved fly fishing, was an accomplished furniture maker and musician who cared deeply about his wife and sons.

“At the end of his life, he had two wishes: He wanted to see his third son get married, and he wanted to meet his first grandchild,” Bantle said. “He got to see both before he died.”

Services for Miller have been held, but anyone who would like to donate in his memory is encouraged to contribute to the University of Minnesota’s Department of Medicine or the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Roseville, Minn.