Gilbert B. Miller Sr.
Gilbert Benton Miller Sr., of Martinsburg, WV., passed away quietly at home Wednesday, March 24, 2021. “Gib” was born in 1926, the third son of Kathleen and Paul Miller of Kearneysville, WVa. Gib is survived by Carolyn, his loving and devoted wife of over 40 years and the “better half” of quite the dynamic duo; Gilbert “Benton” Miller, Jr. (Shelly), who had the opportunity to play for his father when the Hedgesville Eagles won the 1970 State Basketball tournament; Gary Miller (Debbie), who has a multitude of stories about fishing with Gib on the Opequon (we’re not sure about the veracity of those stories); Allen Miller (Prue), who has a lifetime of memories of the twinkle in Gib’s eyes and his wonderful sense of humor; Kim Wagner, who expertly kept “stats” for Gib throughout her high school days at Hedgesville (he would have been lost without her help); Sally Golliday (Harry), who was, and who has always been, his precious little cheerleader; and Harley Wagner (Shauna), with whom Gib loved to watch WVU sports and who made sure Gib had excellent seats at many a WVU game.
Gib was beyond thrilled to have a multitude of grandchildren who did their very best to splash all the water out of the pool every summer, especially on the annual 4th of July weekend celebrations. He remembered their names, told them constantly to be careful, and loved to hear their laughter: Chris, Josh, and Hope Miller (Benton); Grant Miller (Gary); Kathleen, Sarah, and Taylor Miller (Allen); Sarah Echelberger (Kim); Carly and Miller Golliday (Sally); and William and Wesley Wagner (Harley).
Gib was the product of a family that ran a small farm and orchard during and after the great depression. No doubt that helped account for his incredible work ethic. Always the athlete, Gib signed a professional baseball contract with the legendary Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics while a junior at Shepherd College. He didn’t begin his professional career till after graduation, however momma’s orders! In 1998 he was inducted into the Shepherd College Baseball Hall of Fame.
After 3 years of Triple A baseball as a pitcher, he suffered a career-ending knee injury. He returned home and played for some 15 years for the Charles Town American Legion baseball team. Not only was he a tough opponent when he was on the mound, but he was quite the threat with his bat. His 15-yr batting average was .400!
Gilbert began his teaching and coaching career at his beloved Hedgesville High School in 1956. In the classroom he taught the principles of democratic government. After class he coached. Frustrated that the kids didn’t have a decent ball field of their own, he wrangled many friends into bringing necessary equipment to the school in order to build Hedgesville’s first baseball diamond. Rumor has it that if you were in Gib’s 6th period class on game day, you might find yourself raking the infield while your classmates had study hall! He never had a losing season in baseball and was named West Virginia Baseball Coach of the Year in 1975 and District Baseball coach of the year in 1977 by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.
Although he loved baseball, he may well have loved coaching basketball even more. In his 11 years as coach of the freshman, “the boys” won 8 championships. He then coached varsity basketball for 15 years. His teams posted an astounding cumulative record of 243 wins to just 79 losses, they won 10 Bi-State titles and 7 Sectional championships. In 1970 “the boys” won it all by knocking off Bramwell high school in the state championship game before a very vocal and committed contingent of Hedgesville fans. Before the championship game, a radio announcer interviewed Gib and said that he did not actually know where Hedgesville was in the state, to which Gib replied “Well you’d better find out quick, because our name is going to be on that trophy when this night is over!” Gib was named the West Virginia Basketball Coach of the Year that year.
To remember Gilbert only as a fiery and vocal coach is to completely miss the heart and mission of the man, because winning games was never uppermost in his mind. He was forever focused on building into young men qualities that would serve them for life. He wanted teens to see that hard work would have its reward; that playing as a team was more powerful than playing as a bunch of individuals; that commitment to a goal wasn’t always easy to maintain; that “cheap shots” would not be tolerated by his players. He was loyal to his players, he bought them shoes when they needed them, he gave them rides to and from practice (he only ever drove a station wagon), he was an “equal-opportunity” encourager of every player. He taught his teams that mediocrity in life could be had for cheap, but excellence in life came with a cost and was worth striving for. Maybe that’s why the Eagles came from an 11-point halftime deficit to win the state championship by 5. Miller once said “I didn’t make it to the big leagues, but just maybe I touched this kid or that kid and helped to get them headed in the right direction. If I did this, then I really accomplished something.”
Ultimately the time came for Gib to step away from coaching, but he continued to be involved with the sports at Hedgesville by becoming the Athletic Director. In typical fashion he worked hard at that task and was recognized as the AD of the year for W.Va. in 1988.
In time Gib retiredonly to begin a 15-yr stint working for local radio stations, often providing commentary on area games on his Coaches Corner show. He became active in the Berkeley County community by joining the Martinsburg Rotary, becoming its president in 1998 and 1999 and serving on its Board of Directors for six years. He was also a director for the Berkeley 2000 Foundation and helped raise the funds needed to build the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center which opened in March of 2002.
In 2013 Gib found himself riding through Martinsburg in a beautiful convertible having been named the “Honored West Virginian” for the 2013 Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival. As thrilling as that was, that accolade was eclipsed by his most favored honor. In that same year the beautiful $8 million health and physical education addition to his beloved Hedgesville High School was opened and dedicated to him. The community of Hedgesville said a loud “Thank You” to a man who had worked tirelessly for its kids! Later that year Gib was inducted into the Hedgesville High School Hall of Fame and was honored to find himself standing alongside so many who meant so much to the school.
His entire life was not lived out on the diamond or in the gym, though. As a husband he was one of a kind. At his daughter Sally’s Junior Dad’s Day ball, the dancers on the packed floor formed a circle to watch Gilbert and Carolyn “show em how it’s done.” As a dad, Gilbert provided a sterling example of what it looked like to be a man of integrity, of hard work, and of faithfulness. He once threw batting practice for 4 hours to his sons’ underdog little league team the day before they beat their powerful cross-town rivals 22-2. He took the kids to the family farm to work on weekends, to fish or splash in the Opequon, to the drive-in on warm summer nights, and on special road trips to Dairy Queen (he may have liked ice cream more than the kids did!)
Not long after Gib retired “for good,” he received what he would say was one of the greatest honors of his life. Some former students decided to start a Saturday morning breakfast group, and they saw to it that Gib got to that meeting each week! They would talk about the good ole days and tell stories, and more stories, and more stories. They asked how each other was doing and if there was anything any of them could do for one another. As Gib’s health began to decline, those times together did more for him than any medicine could ever do. Those people and that time together meant the world to Gib!
Gilbert Miller will be missed by his adoring family and by a community that benefited greatly from his tremendous love of its people especially “the kids.”
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that you consider making a contribution in his memory to the Gilbert B. Miller Education Fund at the Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation, 229 East Martin Street, Suite 4, Martinsburg, WV 25401. The family is establishing this fund to provide financial support to Hedgesville High School students.
A small family service will be held for Gilbert and a public celebration will be held at a later date at Hedgesville High School.
Arrangements by Brown Funeral Home.