Former Gov. Zell Miller died on Friday morning at his home in Young Harris, and Forsyth County’s McDonald and Son Funeral Home will be handling arrangements for memorials across the state.
Miller held some of the state’s highest elected offices including governor from 1991 to 1999, senator from 2000 to 2005 and lieutenant governor from 1975 to 1991. Miller, who oversaw the creation of the HOPE scholarship, remains the longest-serving lieutenant governor in Georgia history.
Prior to his death, Miller was being treated for Parkinson’s disease. He died at home with family Friday morning.
Lauren McDonald, with McDonald and Son, said the funeral home would be handling plans since his father, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald Jr., and Miller served in the legislature together. Miller’s body arrived at the funeral home Friday afternoon.
“Gov. Miller and my dad served in the legislature [starting in] the early ‘70s and, of course, worked alongside each other, many budget conferences, late nights figuring where to spend the taxpayers’ money,” Lauren McDonald said.
Miller and Bubba McDonald both ran for governor in 1990, along with Sen. Johnny Isakson.
“But, that whole group were really good friends even to the extent he would fly and pick up [Sen.] Johnny Isakson, who was in the race,” Lauren McDonald said. “That whole group of guys stayed very close. After the race and Zell became governor, he appointed Johnny as head of the state school board, and then he also appointed my dad as public service commissioner. It’s a long family relationship that the Miller family wanted Bubba McDonald to take care of Zell.”
In a statement Friday, Isakson remembered his former opponent.
“With the passing of Zell Miller, Georgia has lost its finest public servant, and I have lost a great friend,” Isakson said on Friday.
Lauren McDonald said a funeral would be held in Young Harris, the state funeral would take place at the Georgia State Capitol and the main funeral would be held at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta.
“They’ve got confirmation that multiple presidents will be attending that service,” he said.
Lauren McDonald said he, his staff and members of the Georgia State Patrol had put in “100 hours plus” to plan the services.
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said Miller was a huge political figure in the nation, not just in Georgia.
“He was a national giant from Northeast Georgia, and I looked up to him as a leader who never blinked in the face of a challenge or let politics eclipse his principles,” Collins said.
His family too said Miller ended his life having made a deep impact on the state.
“The people of Georgia have lost one of our state’s finest public servants,” said Bryan Miller, Zell Miller’s grandson and the CEO of the Miller Institute Foundation, in a Friday announcement. “As his grandson, I learned more from Zell Miller both professionally and personally than from anyone else I have encountered. 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.”
Zell Miller was born Feb. 24, 1932, in Young Harris to Stephen Grady Miller and Birdie Bryan. His father died when he was an infant, and both parents were involved with local politics in his hometown in the North Georgia Mountains — setting Miller on his path to political success beginning with his time as mayor of Young Harris.
Gov. Nathan Deal also served with Miller. Then a state senator, Deal and Miller were both Democrats at the time.
“Georgia has lost a favorite son and a true statesmen, and I’ve lost a dear friend. Zell’s legacy is unequaled, and his accomplishments in public service are innumerable,” Deal said in a Friday statement. “Without question, our state and our people are better off because of him.”
Miller’s most referenced and enduring achievement while in office remains the HOPE program, a lottery-funded scholarship that has awarded $9.4 billion in scholarships to Georgia students since its creation in 1992.
Other Georgia politicians lined up to remember Miller on Friday. Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, said Miller’s legacy will live on through the 1.8 million Georgians who have used the HOPE scholarship to pay for school.
“Zell Miller touched the lives of many as a teacher, Marine, public servant and friend,” Perdue said.
FCN Regional Staff Writer Nick Bowman contributed to this report.