By C.V. Moore
OAK HILL —
Henry Miller, affectionately known by his neighbors in Oak Hill as Buddy, doesn’t like to brag.
But now the governor is bragging for him.
Miller recently received the Distinguished Mountaineer Award from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office for his “extraordinary efforts” to assist his neighbors after the June 29 derecho, and for his long-time volunteer service to his community.
“You try to take care of your neighbors just like you would your family — the neighbors you like, anyway,” he joked.
Miller is full of laughter and downplays his actions as simply those of any “considerate human,” but those in his community say that his devotion is far from ordinary.
“I’m 70 years old and I’ve been all over this country, and in all these travels, I’ve never met a kinder man than Buddy Miller. He’s just one of the finest men I’ve ever met in my life,” said Harry Moran, who nominated Miller for the award.
Moran says that Miller holds on to the old values he remembers from his childhood on Dickerson Street in Oak Hill, where neighbors shared food and labor in the same way a family would.
“It was nothing unusual to wake up and find a neighbor in the kitchen making coffee. It was like a big family,” he said.
“I see that changing a lot in the newer generation, but that’s the way I remember West Virginia. That's the spirit that most people had in the old days, but it’s rare today.
“That’s why I prize what he did so much, is because he holds on to the old values that people used to have. Hopefully he’s an example to the younger generation.”
Buddy has been cutting his neighbors’ grass and helping out during personal emergencies for years. He bought a fancy mower, even though his own yard on Valley Street is tiny.
In exchange for mowing the yard of Margaret Sizemore, Moran’s aunt, he was given permission to plant a large garden there. He gives nearly all of his vegetables away to neighbors and family.
After Moran's mother suffered a massive stroke and moved to a nursing home, Moran began to see signs that an anonymous helper had been working at her house.
“I noticed things were neatened up on the back porch, and the sidewalks had been cleaned. Buddy had come and checked on the house regularly and as the grass started growing, he mowed,” said Moran.
He wouldn’t accept any payment except gas money for the mower.
Then, when a violent windstorm hit in June, two huge pine trees in Sizemore’s yard were twisted and snapped.
Miller, who is 70 years old, spent over a solid week cutting up and removing the trees, working in sweltering heat.
“Getting it cut up without getting yourself hurt took a lot of figuring out,” said Miller. One of the trees was precariously leaning against another.
Miller, an Oak Hill native, is a retired truck driver who used to haul industrial freight all over the state and region. He also served in the National Guard from 1960 to 1968.
His father was a coal miner and his mother took care of the four children in his family.
Miller himself is married and has two children; the youngest is a junior at Oak Hill High School. He has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Moran says that the award is usually reserved for prominent public figures, but that it misses the mark.
“There are a lot of everyday, good people that deserve recognition at times, and I think Buddy is one of them,” says Moran.
“He never asks for anything in return and he’s always there to help. He’s helped this community for years and years. I think if people followed his example then the world would be much better.”
Miller says his pleasure comes out of the actions themselves, rather than the recognition.
“I appreciate it, but I don’t like the attention. I’ll probably get calls about all this,” he said with a hint of both pleasure and regret.
When he received the award, Miller told Moran simply, “Thank you, brother.”