By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
When the life of Yvonne Miller slows down, somehow, somewhere, someone will record her life as anything but lost over the past five decades.
Undoubtedly, a volume will outline her lists of firsts, including that as Virginia’s first Black woman to sit in both houses of the state legislature.
Until the time comes, one has to be content with watching her add pages of triumphs, people and opportunities she grants and receives.
Presently, Dr. Yvonne Miller of Norfolk busily exercised the responsibilities of various hats – the four most prominent being State Senator; college educator; outspoken leader of her community on child care and politics; and membership on various boards and in various organizations.
She is a person of intellect, strength, independence, ambition, compassion and intensity in pursuing her career and returning to the community that was given to her.
As she marches towards the future, she reaches back and nurtures the roots which bore the fruits that make her an African-American woman of the 90s.
Miller says her roots lie in common soil strong enough to foster her character and work today. Born in Edenton, North Carolina, she was the first and oldest of 13 children.
In the early 40s, the family settled in the heart of the Black community in Norfolk. John and Pency Bond were her parents: she, a deeply proud and religious housewife; he, a deeply religious and proud laborer at the city’s naval yard.
Being the oldest child, Miller found herself assigned as “aide de camp” to her mother in rearing her young siblings, helping with the shopping, writing letters, reading mail and deciphering documents for her mother who possessed a third grade education.
“I was very close to her,” said Miller, recalling her mothers who died in 1983.
Miller remembers her mother as an advocate for poor and uneducated people long before it became notable among social and civil rights activists in America.
Church was an integral part of the household. “I always remember being in church, she recalled. My family gained so much from it … it made us stronger.”
People outside in the circle of the family and church were important, too.
“I do not know how to define it, but I’ve always been treated special.” Miller said. “People were always giving me something, taking me somewhere … doing or giving me something.”
Looking back, she remarked about the bridges erected by her family, friends and caring outsiders which allowed her to make a smooth passage towards adulthood.
Miller’s talents were awarded with a scholarship from the Zeta Phi Beta sorority – the group to which she currently belongs. After two years of working for an education degree at Norfolk State College, she transferred to Virginia State College to complete it.
College brought new freedom and responsibilities, both personal and academic. And not only did she attend school, but she also worked various jobs to supplement school and personal needs.
Come 1956 and upon graduation, she got her first job teaching in her own neighborhood at Young’s Park Elementary, and opportunity about which she was excited. It provided her first chance to give back to a community which had given so much to her.
“I wanted to be, and I was, a good teacher, because the children learned,” recalled Miller.
She did marry, in 1957, to an Air Force man, whom she describes, as “the most perfect man I’ve ever known.” Nevertheless, irresistible differences led to a divorce in 1968, and Miller forged on to become an instructor at Norfolk State University. Graduate and doctoral degrees helped round out her life as an educator.
Her involvement in community activities sub-sequentially led her into politics. Miller said her political role models were people like Dr. William Robinson, Sr., Judge Joe Jordan, and Mrs. Evelyn Butts.
Unknown to her, community forces recognized her political abilities and were grooming her for the political arena not as a functionary, but as a candidate. In 1984, Miller became the first African-American woman to take a seat in the 100-member Virginia House of Delegates.
And in 1988, she became the first African-American woman to take a seat in the 40-member Virginia Senate.
During the previous legislation session, Miller designed legislation on foster care, studies on campus rape and other related corporations and state employees and unions. But her biggest fight was over the Senate’s redistricting plan. The issue has yet to be resolved.
Miller believes a public official should be a vent – a source for information for voters about the work and goals of their elected officials.
What’s next for Yvonne Miller?
Perhaps even she doesn’t know. She is too busy wearing her present hats of responsibility which can range from politicking in Richmond to reading stories to children in area classrooms. But rest assured, she would be giving back, educating and making that difference in the life as many people as she can.
Publisher’s Note: State Senator Dr. Yvonne B. Miller continued to serve honorably in the Virginia General Assembly until her death on July 3, 2012, one day short of her 78th birthday (born July 4, 1934).