Colleagues Recall HUDS 'Gentle Giant'

D. Michael Miller, the 6-foot-4 former Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) executive chef known to colleagues and friends as “the gentle giant,” was memorialized yesterday at a somber one-hour service in Memorial Church that drew more than 150 people.

Chefs dressed in their dining hall whites and HUDS workers still wearing their green-and-tan uniforms joined administrators and students to remember the 42-year life of Miller, who served as chief executive from 1992 to 2002.

Miller died at his home in Somerville on June 25. According to a spokesperson from the state Medical Examiner’s Office, the cause of death was alcohol poisoning. The case is still under investigation by the Somerville Police Department, said Lieutenant Frank Kelley.

Miller resigned as executive chef on May 1. HUDS spokesperson Alexandra McNitt said that his resigntion was voluntary and unrequested by the administration.

“I don’t know why he left. It was for his own reasons,” McNitt said. “He hadn’t been well.”

But some dining hall workers said they believe Miller was forced out by HUDS management.

“It was clear they wanted Mike out,” said one worker who asked that his name not be used. “He moved offices three times last year.”

McNitt said the moves were due to space constraints and a personnel shortage in Leverett.

“He was trying to help, which was extremely typical of him,” McNitt said.

As the bells of Memorial Church began to toll at 3 p.m. yesterday, Associate Minister of Memorial Church Dorothy A. Austin remembered a man who considered Harvard his extended family and undergradates his children. She said he wanted every student to know how to “rustle up a meal,” so he started a program called Cooking for the Culinarily Challenged, designed to teach seniors how to cook.

“No reason for a chemistry major to be defeated by a Cuisinart,” she remembered him saying.

Former HUDS Director Michael P. Berry read a letter from Miller’s mother, LaVonne McQuilkin, thanking the University community for its support.

“I knew how deeply Michael loved Harvard, I just didn’t know how deeply Harvard loved him,” she wrote.

McQuilkin and Miller’s brother, Matthew, had a private ceremony last weekend, but she provided several bouquets of red and yellow flowers for yesterday’s service.

In her letter, she remembered a son who loved to play with puzzles and legos in his youth and continued to serve his mother breakfast in bed as an adult.

David B. Waters, executive director of Community Servings, which serves meals to Boston residents with AIDS, recalled the time and energy Miller invested in community service.

“He believed that food brings people together, and heals both body and soul,” he said.

Dean of the Extension School Michael Shinagel referred to Miller as a “gentle giant” and “the Collosus of haute-cuisine of Harvard.”

“By his presence and by his example, Mike Miller reminded us that food is love,” he said.

Between renditions of

“Amazing Grace” and Sarah McLaughlin’s “Angel,” rememberances by Miller’s friends and colleagues were read by HUDS Executive Director Ted A. Mayer and Director of Residential Dining Rosemary McGahey.

The readings touched on Miller’s booming laughter, generous spirit and “huge bear hugs.”

Nearly all the eulogies mentioned that Harvard was Miller’s life—he wore Harvard jackets, caps and apparel even on the weekends—and that his co-workers and students were family to him.

“If there is a dining services in heaven, I know Michael is running it,” read one rememberance.

The congregation left the service—with several moist tissues left in the pews—for a reception in Winthrop House.

Miller was a “meat and potatoes kind of guy,” McNitt said, and accordingly the reception featured a carving station with tenderloin and lamb and a mashed potato bar “done in a way that he just loved.”

Although Miller was born on Christmas Day, friends said his favorite holiday was the Fourth of July. McNitt said he would arrive at the Esplanade at 6 a.m. and listen to the music for the entire day. His favorite composer was John Phillips Sousa, she said.

As Miller’s friends and colleagues mingled in the Winthrop JCR yesterday, commemorating his life and eating his favorite foods, the orchestrations of Sousa wafted through the room.

Staff writer Amit R. Paley can be reached at