Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Heart of family: that was Joedd

Citizen Staff Writer

Sunday, children on decorated bicycles and folks waving palm fronds paraded along Indian School Road in Phoenix.

That Central Presbyterian Church tradition was started by the Rev. Joedd Miller.

Joedd loved Palm Sunday. He used to lead the procession with Paco, a rented donkey.

On Palm Sunday this week, though, Joedd Miller died. He was 74, but you’d never have known it.

My cousin Joedd was the finest, funniest, coolest member of our family, hands down. He was a nut.

He was born in Clarinda, Iowa, on March 25, 1935, to Clara and Floyd “Fiddle” Miller.

Fiddle used to be a wing-walker at county fairs. But Joedd found his own wings at Trinity Presbyterian, where he was drawn to the ministry.

His ordination was a big deal in Clarinda, and it was an even bigger deal when the church sent Joedd to Nairobi, Kenya.

He loved Kenya – and he loved Kenyans. For the rest of his life, Joedd would fret and worry whenever troubles erupted in that African nation.

But it was at his next stop, in Sacaton, that Joedd (pronounced Joe-Ed) found and married his true love, Cecelia, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Joyfully, Joedd adopted her five sons, who gave his life a deeper meaning than he ever had known. He and Cecelia later had two daughters, too.

Tragedy struck in 1975, when a driver ran a stop sign and crashed into the Volkswagen van carrying Dennis, their oldest son. It toppled, killing him.

After that, Joedd made all his children drive Volvos.

They are Richard, 49; Roger, 48; Nathan, 46; Michael, 44; Sandra, 38; and Jennifer, 37.

As teenagers, Sandra and Jennifer used to have Joedd drop them a block or two from school, lest they look like dorks being dropped off by their dad.

One day as they approached the school door, Joedd pulled up and leaned out the car window, waving and yelling: “Goodbye, Sandra! Goodbye, Jennifer! Have a nice day, girls!” And he roared away, cackling.

That was Joedd.

He was driving along Central Avenue in the pouring rain once when he saw a labor union bumper sticker he liked.

A red light stopped traffic, so Joedd jumped out to compliment the driver on his sticker.

Before he reached that car, the light turned green, the oblivious driver took off, and a soaked Joedd walked back to discover his car was locked.

He had to leave it – engine running, windshield wipers whapping – and walk home through the rain to get the spare keys. Laughing no doubt.

That was Joedd.

“He just lived in the moment,” Jennifer says. “He saw that bumper sticker, and he had to go tell the guy he liked it!”

Joedd loved life and family, Indians, Iowans, Kenyans – just about everybody except Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

He’d never pass up an opportunity to dance, a chance to swim or an invitation to eat.

He and Cecelia opened the renowned Fry Bread House to provide Native American food in Phoenix. Of course, it was also Joedd’s way to make sure he never missed a meal.

Joedd was a tireless advocate of the poor and downtrodden and a relentless champion of progressive, Democratic causes.

And he was the person who kept track of the whole family. Sure, he did our weddings and funerals. But he also knew if you got sick, had a baby, graduated college or lost your job.

He cared. And we counted on him.

When a Phoenix bookstore still was selling the Tucson Citizen, he’d drive across town every week just to buy my column.

He’d call late at night to discuss life and politics, ending almost every call with a prayer.

Joedd was ecstatic when Barack Obama won the presidency; the victory filled him with hope for our world.

We’re glad he lived to see that – and to get to know his newest grandchild, Isabella Martinez, now almost 2 (Sandra’s daughter).

He doted on her and Feather, 12, (Richard’s daughter) and Zeke, 17 (Roger’s son).

Joedd lived large – in love, laughter and in his faith.

Incredibly, news of his death prompted the same response from many of us: “I can’t imagine a world without Joedd.”

My family has lost its center, its heart. For us, at least, the world really never will be the same.

Reach Billie Stanton by e-mail at bstanton@tucsoncitizen.com or billiestanton@gmail.com.


Services for Joedd Miller

A wake will be from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday at Central Presbyterian Church, 37 E. Indian School Road in Phoenix. The funeral will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Orangewood Presbyterian Church, 7321 N. 10th St. in Phoenix. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center (www.splcenter.org) at 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104.

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