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Big shoes to fill

Bob Miller knows drama.

During his career, he’s made preparations to host every American president on campus since Richard Nixon. He’s also planned for nearly 30,000 screaming teenagers to arrive on campus — not for classes, but for a New Kids on the Block concert in 1990.

In the case of the boy band, it meant preparing the neighbors for speakers that were three stories high, having a doctor on hand to treat teens for heat exhaustion, and arranging for a helicopter to stand by for emergencies.

“The only details I worry about are the ones I haven’t thought of. Those are the scary ones,” said Miller, who is entering his 35th year of service to Furman.

Fortunately, every day isn’t that exciting.

As Furman’s director of public safety, Miller works with a staff of 25 to oversee law enforcement services, 24-hour communications, physical security, crime prevention and awareness programs, support services for campus activities and events, and traffic and parking.

A native of Baltimore, Miller earned a bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville State University and began his career at age 21 working for the Ocean City Police Department in Maryland. While he didn’t yet have law enforcement experience, “I was a big guy with common sense,” Miller said with a laugh.

He went on to serve as a special agent with military intelligence in the U.S. Army, where he specialized in interviews and interrogations. Much of his work during that time (late ’60s) involved handling civil rights demonstrations in the South.

Miller served as chief of police in Morrow, Ga., and worked at public safety departments at Duke and Emory universities. He was also the chief administrator for public safety agencies at Clayton State University and at Georgia College and State University.

While working in Georgia, Miller was recommended for his current position at Furman. He came for a visit in 1978, accepted the job, and has called Furman home ever since.

“I like the environment here. I like working with the students,” Miller said.

“Student interests and concerns have always been a priority with him. Anytime an idea surfaces, he wants to know the possible impact on students,” said Lt. David Enter, who works closely with Miller in Public Safety. “He has always had a customer-service-oriented approach to campus policing. He is a progressive, professional thinker, and many security measures that some colleges have recently adopted were put in place at Furman years ago. He quietly goes about his work, and Furman is safer and better for his professional leadership.”

Miller is proud of the work he’s done over the years, bringing in technology across campus with security and fire alarm systems, video monitoring, card access to buildings, computerized dispatch, records, traffic and parking management, and communications systems.

“If you don’t want a quality program, you don’t want me in it,” he said.

His greatest source of pride is his staff. When he arrived three decades ago, Furman had a security department. Now, it has evolved into a fully certified police department with an expanded range of services. Officers currently working at Furman have diverse backgrounds in law enforcement, formerly serving in roles with the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office and as far away as the New York City Police Department.

“Bob has always been truly committed to the individuals in his department and to making the Furman experience the best that it could be for students, staff and faculty,” said Harry Shucker, who retired in 2007 as Furman’s vice president for student services. “He respected the dignity of everyone, no matter how difficult the interactions became or how tragic the outcomes of the events that transpired. . . . I called on him for advice as well as for assistance, and he was always available at any time of the day or night.”

Miller’s community involvement isn’t limited to Furman.

He has held offices in numerous local, state, national and international professional organizations and has served as a consultant to colleges and universities throughout the United States. He was chair of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators professional development committee for 11 years, where he was responsible for developing the educational programming for international conferences and workshops.

He served on the Greenville County Commission on Alcohol Abuse for Underage Drinking Enforcement and Education and on the FBI’s Joint Terrorist Task Force. From 2000 to 2009, Miller served on the Advisory Board to the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center for the Southeast, and as the representative for college and university law enforcement with the National Institute for Justice.

Miller is currently in a mode he describes as “transitional planning,” working with his staff to prepare for his retirement on June 30. He’s looking forward to traveling and spending more time with his wife of 46 years, Pam, as well as with his children and grandchildren.

When he retires next year, Miller will not only be leaving his mark on campus, he’ll also be leaving behind a pair of shoes. Literally.

One of the liveliest incidents on campus that he can recall happened in the mid-’90s, when a man under the influence went on a wild romp across campus, assaulted some pedestrians and ended up in the lake, which had been drained in preparation for the renovation of the university center.

Miller and another officer went after the man and ended up in mud up to their hips. While they were able to capture the man, Miller’s shoes fell victim to the mud. To this day, Miller said they’re still somewhere out in the lake.

Oh, well. All in a day’s work.

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