Ashburton’s medical mayor: Dr G I Miller

George Inglis Miller as seen in John Brown’s ‘History of Ashburton’.

When you think about Ashburton’s past mayors, who comes to mind?

Does your mind dwell on more recent names, or do you think of the Friedlanders, Thomas Bullock, Robert Galbraith, or Ernest Bathurst?

Ashburton District has had some prominent and interesting leadership since the formation of the Borough in 1878, under whom the District has become the place we know and love.

The often cruel nature of history is that so many are forgotten or overshadowed, perhaps for but a moment, or for much longer.

The story of Dr George Inglis Miller has been briefly told in a couple of local history books, and he was also the topic of an Ashburton Guardian feature written by Ray McCausland over 30 years ago.

Other than a scant few mentions, the story of Ashburton’s seventeenth mayor, who suffered an untimely and sudden death at the age of forty one while in office, has not been presented in full since 1988.

A fitting background

According to the Otago Daily Times, George Inglis Miller was born on the 17th of July 1900 at the Presbyterian Manse, Milton.

It is worth briefly noting that Maurice Otley’s ‘History of Medicine in the Ashburton County’ states Miller’s birthplace as Waikaka Valley, near Gore, and an obituary piece in the Guardian following his death claims that he was born in 1898.

Despite this, it seems more likely that he was born at the Manse in Milton as reported by the Otago Daily Times.

George came from quite a fitting background – his father, the Rev George Miller, was the son of Dr H. H. Ingles, the first doctor at Mosgiel.

Ashburton Presbytery 1914. Rev George Miller is sitting, second in from left.

The Millers came to Ashburton when George was young, his father having taken up a position as minister at St. Andrew’s Church while George attended Ashburton High School.

It is worth noting that at one time, the older Rev George Miller was the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.

Young George’s high school achievements were notable; he was a football XV and cricket XI captain, senior athletics champion, and Dux of the school.

In April 1923, George was engaged as the first house surgeon at £150 a year, and after one year in this position he qualified at Otago, subsequently earning his Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery.

Miller then practiced for eighteen months at Kaikoura, and for four years at Waikari before returning to Ashburton to take over the practice of Dr Hugh Hunter, Mrs Miller’s father.

According to Otley, about 1937 he went to England for postgraduate work at the Chelsea Women’s Hospital and he qualified for the Diploma of R.C.O.G – becoming the first New Zealander to do so.

Ashburton High School Prefects 1916. George is third from the left, front row.

His life in Ashburton

During his time in Ashburton, Miller and his father were keenly and actively involved in the community.

George was a member of the Ashburton Cricket Club, president of the Golf Club, and also enjoyed membership with the trotting and racing clubs.

He was also, according to Otley, on the Board of Governors of the High School and was their chairman in 1935.

In 1938, George and his father Rev George Miller both manned the platform for the prize giving at the High School, the father giving the speech of the evening and the son, as chairman of the Board, conducting the ceremony.

Miller’s involvement in clubs, societies, and associations did not stop there.

He was President of the Ashburton High School Old Pupil’s Association after 1931, a Director of the Permanent Building Society, a member of the committee of management of St. Andrew’s Church, a member of the Rotary Club, and he was a member of the Bowling Club.

It is clear that George had many interests and struggled to stifle his enthusiasm for many hobbies at once, which is reflected in how fondly many remembered him after he passed.

Serving the Borough

Miller was elected to the Borough council in May 1938, and he secured the role of Mayor a few months later.

At the time, Ashburton was still reeling from the economic difficulties of 1929-1933.

Miller is credited by John Brown as having given the Borough “a new lease of life”, being described as a man who “with a far-seeing mind and quick decision, has grasped the problem of recovery, and has led the Council through the maze of uncertainty with wonderful rapidity – the experience of travel in many lands giving him ideals that his practical mind has changed to satisfying accomplishments.”

An extensive street programme of kerbing, channelling, and sealing completed during the years 1938 and 1939 boosted the Council’s reputation, with the aid of the Government’s No. 13 scheme.

Tragically, Dr George Inglis Miller lost his fight against a serious illness on the 7th of November 1940.

He died in Christchurch due to a months-long illness, during the course of which he underwent two serious operations, and shortly before his death it was believed that he was on the road to recovery.

On the afternoon of that day, he was suddenly taken to Christchurch Hospital by ambulance where he died in the company of his wife that night.

Dr George Inglis Miller was described as genial and thoughtful, and he was survived by his wife, two sons, and a daughter.

By Connor Lysaght

This post was modified for this blog and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 15th of August 2020.

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