Cleveland Business Leader, Philanthropist Sam Miller Dies At 97

Emeritus Bishop Anthony Pilla (R) with Sam Miller and Bishop Roger Gries (left) at the 2015 Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Alleluia Ball. [Cleveland Diocese]
Emeritus Bishop Anthony Pilla (R) with Sam Miller and Bishop Roger Gries (left) at the 2015 Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Alleluia Ball. [Cleveland Diocese]

One of the most powerful persons in Cleveland has died. Former Forest City co-chairman Sam Miller was one of those rich, powerful businessmen who got things done, but he always kept the less fortunate in mind. 

Miller’s mom was a survivor of the 1911 Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York. His father immigrated from Russia. Miller grew up selling rags in Cleveland, the city where he would become a major developer.  He couldn’t speak English until he was seven.

After serving in the Navy in World War II, Miller married Ruth Ratner and went to work for her family's business, then known as Forest City Materials Co. He soon helped turn the lumber company into a major home builder here and eventually a developer of commercial and residential projects around the country. Their post-war housing developments helped grow Parma into the ninth largest city in Ohio. 

Miller and his co-chair at Forest City, Albert Ratner, were active donors to political candidates where the company had business. They sometimes gave to both sides in an election.

Miller was an early supporter of the reform campaign that replaced Cuyahoga County's standard three-commissioner form of govenment with a council and executive system. 

In a statement, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish called Miller “one of the most important local leaders of our time. He worked across political, religious and racial lines by finding common ground while working on many major projects in our community. Sam was a key to the success of countless efforts that have made this county a better place to live.”

Miller’s influence helped elect Mike White and Frank Jackson as Cleveland mayors. Politicians of both parties considered him a friend and advisor.

In 2013 while being inducted into the Cleveland Hall of Fame, Miller urged the audience to appreciate the work of their immigrant parents or grandparents. He argued the nation is suffering from “tired blood.”

“By keeping out the immigrants, the immigrants [are] the ‘fresh blood’ we need,” Miller said. “In no way possible is it to tell you how badly we need them. They’re terrific. They’re absolutely terrific.”

Sam Miller received the Cleveland Heritage Medal in 2017 but was too ill to attend. (LtoR) Frank Jackson, Margot James Copeland, Akram Boutros. [Mark Urycki / ideastream]

Governor DeWine issued a statement noting Miller’s generous philanthropy.

“Sam’s wisdom, efforts for the Jewish and Catholic communities, and desire to give back to his hometown seemed never-ending. He was truly one of Cleveland’s greatest cheerleaders,” DeWine said.

Cleveland Catholic Emeritus Bishop Anthony Pilla had a friendship with Miller going back almost 50 years. He once joked, “We were in love with the same woman: my mother.” 

In a statement Thursday, Pilla wrote, “What Sam and I had as friends I only wish that everyone could find with another person from a different faith. I will always cherish the memory of my mother and Sam in her kitchen every Sunday morning praying together — hand in hand — and then enjoying the bagels that he would bring with coffee.”

Miller was an active fundraiser for both his Jewish faith but also the Catholic church. He received numerus awards for his charitable work and met Pope John Paul II several times.

Bishop Pilla said he and Miller had a special friendship. 

“While Sam and I have differed on some issues,” wrote Pilla,  “I don’t think it is possible for two men to respect and care about each other more than we did. Did we bring all the Catholics and Jews to a similar relationship? Hardly, but I like to think we brought some love and understanding on a personal level to the relations that have been strained for 2,000 years.”

Sam Miler was 97.

Support Provided By

More Wksu Schedule
More Wclv Schedule
NPR Hourly Newscast
The Latest News and Headlines from NPR
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.