If you have the luxury of good health at 97 years old, it’s easy to imagine how cliche’ one question might become. That question — “what’s the secret to long life” is probably one Kingsport’s Bob Miller hears all too often. As one of our state’s few nonagenarian treasures, he surprisingly never gets tired of sharing his advice.
This question and others were on my mind when we walked a couple of miles on the Kingsport Greenbelt recently, something he still completes at least once or twice a week. Each generation seeks insights to longevity. There’s plenty of opinions too. From diets to exercise and the more sublime modern ideas like Ray Kurzweil’s notion of the coming “singularity” and immortality.
Sometimes, the best answers are right in front of us.
A native of Chester, South Carolina, Bob moved to Kingsport in 1948. He graduated from the University of North Carolina with his first job being at Eastman Kodak; he’s lived here ever since. Although he looks like he’s in his 70’s, his conversation is heightened by his gliding southern accent and are enchanting aspects of his distinctive character. He is bright, intelligent and answers questions without hesitation.
“Take advantage of your opportunities.”
Working at Eastman in a variety of roles from research to marketing, Bob describes the opportunities that kindled a love for hiking.
“I’ve had the opportunity to make some terrific hiking trips mainly because I was in the Eastman Hiking Club. Some of those were outlandish, but they still proposed it and I was either smart enough or dumb enough to go and I’m glad I did.”
With his first hiking trip in Switzerland, Bob has climbed peaks from the highest point in the “lower 48” at Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet) in the Sierra Nevada’s to hiking with his granddaughter in the Colorado Rockies. He believes these opportunities have helped him live a long life. That…and “good genes.”
He continues, “A lot of people have good intentions, but they don’t always bring them into play. They say — we’ll go next time. There may be no next time.”
These days, Bob walks the Kingsport Greenbelt once or twice a week. He walks 2 to 3 miles at a quick pace and greets everyone he meets with the persona of a Southern gentleman, “Howdie, Howdie.” He is also a member of the Old Timer’s Hiking club and leads hikes every quarter around the lake at Bay’s Mountain and other locations throughout the region.
Bob loves his home here in the mountains too. When he describes his hikes, he is delighted to describe with detail, the wildlife, native birds and his favorite subject — wildflowers. He recants his discovery of a variety of native trilliums, wild orchids and his favorite, the pink lady slipper which he finds often on his ventures near Tazewell, TN.
“I’m unusually lucky to have good health — I’m very seldom sick. The good Lord has provided it and I think it’s my responsibility to use it.”
The afternoon was warm and we proceeded to consider other topics of similar interest. Besides good health, I also had the opportunity to ask a few more questions.
Who was the best president?
“A lot of people didn’t like him at the time, but Roosevelt changed the landscape by providing more jobs through programs like the Seabees. He also adds, “I liked Truman too.” “I didn’t think he was that good of guy. He and Bess drove home by themselves with no pension and not the least bit concerned.”
What’s the worst part about getting old?
“The people at Hallmark should offer a six-pack of sympathy cards. You spend a lot of time attending funerals.”
With all the changes in technology, what would you consider the most important invention of your life?
“The radio was fascinating. I remember my dad coming home from a sales meeting in the 1920s with a radio the size of a brick. We’d all gather around that for hours. It was marvelous?”
What was the most important decision you ever made?
Without hesitation, Bob answers — “Marrying my wife.”
After 72 years of marriage, Bob still lives with his wife Doris at Baysmont. She’s 94 and they continue to color our community with the grace of a life well-lived.
The United States has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of people who live to be 100 years of age. Today, that number represents .02% of the population. With better healthcare and small starts to improve nutrition, fitness and reduce smoking, this percentage is forecasted to improve even more in the coming years.
Bob Miller is a living example of the what it takes to live the good life. He’s an inspiration too. Considering his challenge to “take advantage of your opportunities,” he sums up a life well-lived and one that goes way beyond the average.