By Alan S. Chartock | March 5, 2021

Dr. Alan Miller has passed. He died at 99 and if I remember correctly his father died at almost that exact same age. Alan, the long-time Commissioner of Mental Hygiene in New York under Governor Nelson Rockefeller was a personal mentor who made public radio station WAMC what it is today (best in the nation). He was a viola player and he cared as much about classical music as almost anything else in life. He was a board member at Camphill Village, one of the most exciting projects in the country.

He used to tell me about his dad, a dentist who, at in his later years, grew depressed and called his son the doctor almost every day. Finally, Alan told his dad that he had to get out of the house and do things with his friends. Eventually, the father agreed to go to a baseball game but upon arriving at the stadium, he died. It became a favorite joke between Alan and me that he would live forever but he should never go to a baseball game.

Miller had a tough job. As Commissioner of Mental Hygiene, he had to preside over a vast network of mental hospitals that were being depopulated. He was sensitive about that period and about the investigations that were motivated by the personal aggrandizement of some reporters. None of this was really his fault. President Kennedy had called for funding of community mental health centers that were envisioned to be free standing and independent, but which were frequently scooped up by the major hospitals. If you took people out of the hospitals and sent them to independent mental health centers, things might have been far better. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. The plight of the mentally ill in New York and in the country at large continues unabated.

Also, when Alan was commissioner there was a movement by the parents of those who were then called the mentally retarded (a term which has been retired) to separate out the Department of Mental Hygiene into mental health and mental retardation. Under Rocky’s successor High Carey, that was accomplished.

I quoted Alan in my doctoral dissertation on the politics of mental health so many years ago, but we grew apart until he came into my life fortuitously. As I have said so many times, a chance meeting on a train changed my life for the good.

After Nelson Rockefeller died, it fell to Alan to keep an eye on the late governor’s wife, Happy Rockefeller. He was assiduous in doing that. That went a long way toward explaining the relationship between Alan and Rocky. It was quite a testimonial that Alan was charged with that responsibility.

Alan was married twice. He was extremely proud of his children who meant a great deal to him. He spoke of them a lot and they seemed of great comfort to him.

Once Alan asked if he could bring a classical group onto WAMC and, of course, we complied. To be charitable, the group was not the Emerson Quartet. I think that it was a testimonial to Alan’s sensitivity that he never asked for a radio encore. That was one of his strong points — he had a great deal of self-knowledge.

When all is said and done, I will miss him horribly. He was a human being who had his successes as well as his more trying times. On balance, however, he was as good a friend as you could ask for and after all, the way we remember people is what they meant to us. In my case, he was always reminding me of my strong points. The fact that I won’t have him doing that for me any longer will leave me with a void in my life and in my heart.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected].