Zell Miller, a former governor and senator from Georgia, has died.
Miller died Friday morning at his home in Young Harris surrounded by family. He was 86 and had been treated for Parkinson’s disease.
The Miller Institute, an organization dedicated in 2016 to promoting the former statesman’s legacy, announced his death.
“My grandfather passed away peacefully surrounded by his family,” Bryan Miller, CEO of the Miller Institute Foundation and a grandson of the former governor and senator, said.
“The people of Georgia have lost one of our state’s finest public servants.”
Gov. Nathan Deal called Miller “a dear friend,” and Sen. Johnny Isakson — whom he defeated to become governor — said Miller was the state’s “finest public servant.”
“Zell’s legacy is unequaled and his accomplishments in public service are innumerable,” Deal said. “Without question, our state and our people are better off because of him.”
But the mark Zell made in his private life—as a dutiful son, a loving husband, & a proud father & grandfather—are the ones of which I’m sure he was most proud. I was honored to serve with him in the senate & have cherished his counsel for decades. May God bless him and keep him.— Governor Nathan Deal (@GovernorDeal) March 23, 2018
Miller served as Georgia’s lieutenant governor from 1975-91, the longest tenure anyone has had in the office. He became the 79th governor of Georgia on Jan. 16, 1991.
During his tenure as governor, Georgia instituted a lottery for education. He bought the first ticket on June 29, 1993. Later that year, the nation’s first prekindergarten program began.
The Miller Institute said more than 1.8 million students have gone to college in Georgia on HOPE Scholarships and more than 1.6 million 4-year-olds have begun their educations in state pre-K programs.
“Throughout his career, Zell Miller was a strong advocate for the value of a public education and made it his mission to ensure Georgia students had the opportunity to pursue a college degree,” U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Warner Robins said in a statement.
“Because of his work on the HOPE Scholarship program, over 1.8 million Georgians have been able to attend a public college or university in Georgia who may not have been able to otherwise. His legacy will live on through them.”
Miller almost lost his 1994 re-election bid, though, as he pushed to remove the Confederate battle emblem from Georgia’s state flag. Changing the 1956 flag didn’t happen until 2001 and was a factor in Miller’s successor, Roy Barnes, losing his own re-election bid.
During Miller’s second term, he helped welcome the world to the Peach State for the 1996 Olympics.
Miller carried Newton County in both 1990, against Isakson, who was the state House minority leader; and 1994, against businessman Guy Millner.
Isakson, then a congressman from Marietta, succeeded him.
“I do not know of anyone who impacted the lives of Georgians more than Zell,” Isakson said in a statement Friday.
“His Marine Corps values of patriotism and loyalty guided his career in service to his state and his country. Zell and Shirley will always be Georgia’s first family. I treasure their friendship.”
During his career, Miller delivered keynote addresses to both the Democratic National Convention (1992) and Republican National Convention (2004).
Rep. Jody Hice of Greensboro said Miller exhibited “unparalleled” public service in a career that also included time as a Young Harris mayor, a state senator and a member of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.
“He was a trailblazer and role model for many who would follow in his footsteps,” Hice said.
“As his grandson, I learned more from Zell Miller both professionally and personally than from anyone else I have encountered,” Bryan Miller said. “He was more than my grandfather. He was my dear friend and mentor
“I cherish all the time we spent together. I will never forget the lessons he taught me, his witty sense of humor or his contagious smile. Our family will miss him terribly.”
Funeral arrangements were not announced immediately.