Joyce Dannen Miller was born in Chicago on June 19, 1928. Her father ran a dry goods store and her mother was a teacher at a school for the deaf, mute, and blind. While in school at the University of Chicago, she worked in a gumball factory, which brought her into the bakery and confectionery workers’ union. By the early 1970s, she had made a name for herself setting up the “Rolls Royce of day care centers” through the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in Chicago. In 1974, she emerged as a prime mover behind CLUW (Coalition of Labor Union Women), a force for equal rights for women workers. She also made history as the first woman to join the previously all-male Executive Council of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.
My mother had a remarkable career. In addition to her work, especially in her later years, she was committed to her family and she had dozens, if not hundreds of friends, with whom she kept in regular contact. It must have been a challenge for her to remember the details of all those lives and offer them solicited and unsolicited guidance, but she did. Each year she sent out hundreds of holiday cards and remembered every birthday. She was unfailingly courteous. She never went to a house without bringing a gift.
She was committed to workers and felt comfortable with them, despite her degrees from the University of Chicago. Her model was Eleanor Roosevelt.
My mom studied to be a labor educator. At summer camps for shop stewards, the most active union members, she taught the importance of unions. She explained the theory, the purpose, of trade unions so that they could share that vision with other members. Labor education was not always respected by the union’s staff; it was soft and expendable compared to negotiating contracts for the members.
I remember her on the front of the bus at one of those camps. She took the bus’s microphone and led the group in singing "Solidarity Forever." She couldn’t carry a tune, but she was not the least bit self-conscious and it didn’t matter. The people on the bus all sang with her.
Here are some things not in the obituaries. She loved movies and often recounted that in her early career she would visit New York from Pennsylvania and often saw as many as three movies in a day. She read many books, and was a member of two book clubs, but also found time to watch a lot of TV and read The New York Times and The Washington Post. If you wanted to have a short phone call with her, you could call at 9:50 p.m. on a weeknight. You knew that she would get off the phone by 10 p.m. for Law and Order.
One thing I learned from her, but cannot imitate, is that in retirement she went to every possible meeting. She accepted every invitation. She was an active member of The Towers condominium Tenants’ Association, the Cosmos Club, a retirement club, the Women’s Democratic Club, and any meeting of AFL-CIO, CLUW, or Amalgamated Clothing Workers (now UNITE HERE).
My mother was proud to be Jewish. She didn’t practice but made sure she was somewhere for the High Holidays. Her mother’s side of the family was Orthodox and she loved attending their events. She had an Orthodox wedding. She went to Israel several times. She was always delighted if I and my kids did anything Jewish.
This is not the place to state my own feelings, but I will say this: my mother was a good person.
In addition to being a great friend to many and a loving mother, daughter, and sister, she was a Tzaddik.