Laura Ariane Miller (Political Science and French, 1974) radiated a rare blend of genuine empathy and sharp intelligence that served her well throughout a dynamic career in Washington. Acting as Senior Counsel at power law firm Nixon Peabody, Laurie Miller spent years as chair of the firm’s government investigations and white-collar defense practice, defending the reputation of some of the nation’s most powerful figures. “I can tell if I’ve done a good job if nobody ever knows that my client is under investigation,” said Miller. Her clients included presidents of Fortune 500 companies, multiple Congressmen, and officials in both Bush administrations and the Clinton administration. Miller’s engagement in the Washington scene extended beyond her impressive legal work. While serving as co-chair of the National Women’s Forum for President Barack Obama, Miller held one of the first fundraisers for the then-Senator from Illinois. Additionally, Miller was present when President Obama announced his nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court
A dedicated alumna of the Honors Program and member of the University of Michigan Tri Delta chapter, Miller retained a strong sense of connection to Michigan. “Michigan was very important to me,” she reflected. “My dad was a vegetable salesman. Michigan gave me all sorts of opportunities that I never would’ve had otherwise. It’s quite clear to me that it’s a debt I want to repay all my life.” Serving as chair of the Michigan in Washington Advisory Committee, Miller made herself available as a mentor to the students in the program. The program was especially close to her heart, given that she held her first Washington internship while at Michigan. As a junior studying Political Science and French, Laurie Miller wrote a letter to her Congressman, House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford, asking for an internship. She spent a summer working in Ford’s office, and she was hooked. “Washington was everything I had been hearing about and studying about in Ann Arbor,” she remembered. Soon after returning to Ann Arbor in the fall of 1973, Miller was in Mason Hall when she heard the news that Ford was chosen to replace Agnew as Vice President.
After graduating from the University in 1974, Miller planned to pursue a joint degree in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a law degree from Harvard Law School. After putting her studies on hold when her father suffered a heart attack, Miller returned to Washington, deferring her dream of becoming a lawyer. She worked in a consulting firm before becoming Special Assistant to Joseph Califano, Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Jimmy Carter. At age 25, Miller was appointed Deputy Commissioner of the United States Administration for Children, Youth and Families – which put her in charge of 440 people and a $1.4 billion budget. “I would probably be terrified to take the job now, 30 years later, but at the time I didn’t know enough to be scared,” she said.
Miller actively worked to stretch her comfort zone, both intellectually and through life experiences. Her most memorable Honors experiences were in her Honors seminars, and she fondly recalled “wrestling with what Racine was saying in Phedre or debating whether European integration really was viable.” Miller advised current students to take advantage of the cultural opportunities Ann Arbor offers beyond the classroom, and to seek out smaller community experiences within the broader University. “Any opportunity to live, study, or work in a small group within our big, wonderful University provides the best of all worlds,” said Miller, a former resident of Butler Hall in Markley (1970-1971). “I urge current Honors students, indeed all students at Michigan, to seize every reasonable occasion to engage with faculty and to emerge from the crowd, as comfortable as it might feel to sit back and remain unnoticed.”
Miller credited her Honors experience for allowing her to be braver intellectually as she went forward, first to graduate school at Harvard, and eventually returning to law school at Yale. After graduating from Yale, Laurie clerked at the Supreme Court for Justice Byron R. White. “My first love, always, is Michigan,” she said. Until her death in the summer of 2015, she was an essential member of the UM LSA Honors Alumni Council, where her own ties to Michigan remained strong.
Current Michigan undergraduates following her legacy should remain part of the University in every way they can. “Return to Ann Arbor often. ‘Adopt’ a current student. Correspond with favorite faculty members. Find other Michigan alums wherever you may go. We have an incredible worldwide community.” The University of Michigan community would be hard-pressed to have found a better ambassador than Laurie Miller.