A political gadfly of the first degree, and an extraordinary human being

The Colorado Statesman

Clarence Miller, a staunch advocate for the developmentally disabled and once recognized as the honorary “101st” legislator by former Senate president John Andrews, died Jan. 14, 2014, a few days short of his 64th birthday. His legacy and unique life will long be remembered by the myriad of people who knew and cared about him, ranging from several governors, mayors and other high level political officials to everyday citizens.

Many were in attendance Jan. 31 at a memorial service held at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, a half block kittycorner from the Capitol building where Clarence spent so much of his time. State Sen. Lucia Guzman opened the service with prayers and scripture, followed by Colorado Health Care Association president Arlene Miles, one of Clarence’s longtime guardian angels who shared her emotional remarks in a loving tribute to her dear friend.

“Clarence was a memorable and special person, and there will never be another person like him. Those who were touched by Clarence’s magic were blessed,” Miles began. “He was a valued friend who made more of the talents Gods gave him than most. He was a political gadfly of the first degree.”

Clarence was institutionalized for most of his early life, but later lived independently and provided a passionate voice on behalf of persons with disabilities.

Former Senate president John Andrews, left, presents Clarence Miller with a proclamation honoring him as the 101st legislator in 2004.

In 2002, Clarence was interviewed by Homer Page for The Colorado Quarterly Magazine, where he talked about what his early years were like.

Clarence Miller and Gov. John Hickenlooper shake hands.

“I went to Ridge Home when I was eight and lived there until I was 14. There was nothing to do. I got no education. When I was 14, I was sent to the hospital in Pueblo. I didn’t like it there either. If you said a word, you would be tied down with belts. The cops used four belts. If you said suicide, they would tie you down. I got tied down, but I never tried suicide. When I was 21, I got out of the state hospital. I came to Denver. I didn’t have a place to live, so I went to a shelter but my money was stolen the first night. I had nothing. For a few days I lived on the street but then a priest named David Morgan got me a Section 8 [a federal housing program]. He wrote a check for me. Since then I have lived in a lot of places.”

Gov. Roy Romer and Clarence Miller share a laugh in the past.

From the same interview a dozen years ago, Clarence was asked to describe his disability. “Once they said at the Pueblo Hospital that I was actually mentally retarded with a mental health diagnosis and a low IQ. But I hate the word retarded. I don’t think I’m retarded. I do too many things in my life to be retarded. I think I’m normal.”

Little Clarence Miller and his brother Harold and father back in Wray, where he was born in 1950.

Clarence began spending time at the state Capitol. Again, from his interview in The Colorado Quarterly Magazine: “I got started working on the bill for a Martin Luther King holiday, I’m for freedom. Martin Luther King was a great man. He was for freedom.

“I go to the bill room and get the bills. Then I get someone to read them for me. I didn’t have much education so I need help reading. I like to testify before the committees. I like to tell them about people with disabilities.”

“I met Clarence about 25 years ago in the basement of the Capitol,” Miles related at his memorial service. “He would often sit with me and talk. I thought he was lonely (little did I know), and so I asked our receptionist at the time to put his name on our mailing list as I thought it would make him feel good to receive something in the mail. Much later, while I, along with Chris Castilian, Mike Beasley and Rhonda Bentz were moving him to another apartment, we found out that I was not the only person who put Clarence on their mailing list. I realized he was on a lot of people’s mailing list and never threw any of it away.”

That was the beginning of a long friendship.

“Soon after we met, Clarence started coming to the CHCA offices daily, and it was no time until he actually picked out his own office and requested that his name be placed on his door. And as most of you know, Clarence is not to be denied — so an office he got and with his name on the door. That was the start of a friendship that lasted 25 years and a friendship that made me a better person.

“Clarence was a person who earned respect from others and for that respect he repaid you with his friendship and love. Many of us faced a lot of ups and downs with Clarence, and I want to assure you that Clarence appreciated every one of you for what you did for and with himm” Miles continued. “Whether it was Aileen McGinley’s trips to the foot doctor, Steve Durham organizing the dream team of lawyers to help Clarence out of his legal problems, Bonita Jones picking up his laundry and taking it to the local nursing home to be washed, Senators [Tony] Grampsas and [Jim] Rizutto for serving as character witnesses in court, Koko making him laugh uncontrollably, Mitch helping him with his money, Scott taking him to the Capitol and on other outings, those who attended his birthday parties, took him to lunch, to your houses, to your weddings, he loved you all,” Miles said.

“Clarence is the one person who didn’t need to read the newspaper or watch the news because he was there — at everything. As a matter of fact, Clarence didn’t read — but it always amazed me how he could look at a piece of paper and know that it was important enough to grab and put in his bag. Once when Clarence was in trouble at our office misbehaving he knew he did wrong, and to avoid being confronted by me, while sitting next to Ruben Valdez, he picked up the newspaper and pretended to read it so he didn’t have to look at me. Only problem was the paper was upside down.

“There are so many people here today who have wonderful memories to share and I am so thankful you are all here because those memories will fill the void left in our hearts by his absence,” Miles went on to say.

“I talked to Clarence almost daily for 25 years and he never failed to say I love you when he hung up. And today we say to Clarence, ‘We love you too.’

“Clarence, the world was made a better place by having you in it. You will always remain in our hearts and minds.”

Alan Salazar, Chief Strategy Officer for the Governor, and Tracee Bentley, his legislative director, read a letter and proclamation from the Hickenlooper at the memorial service, both which can be read in this week’s print edition.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com