Public Service Extraordinare

Published: February 1, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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Former Santa Barbara Mayor Harriet Miller was memorialized as a fearless and, at times, fearsome public servant whose direct, no-nonsense approach made the city a better place for all.

What I remember most about Harriet is her determination and dedication to getting things done, period.  When Harriet gave you her word or support, you could take it to the bank.  And more than one local non-profit was able to do just that.

The embodiment of civic duty, among the many organizations Harriet served: The Air Pollution Control District, Anti-Defamation League, Community Action Commission, Family Services Agency, Fielding Institute Board of Trustees, Get Oil Out, Health House, Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, Institute for Local Government, League of California Cities, National League of Cities, Rehabilitation Institute of Santa Barbara, and The Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts are just a few of the many groups that benefited from Harriet’s time, talent, energy and management skills.

After serving as Associate Director of AARP in Washington, DC Harriet rose to Executive Director within a year. Returning to Santa Barbara in 1981, she then served on the City Council for 8 years, followed by two terms as the city’s mayor.

Always listening – sometimes for hours – to all sides of an issue, Harriet would only interrupt a speaker if they began to repeat themselves.

Among the best examples of political leadership I have ever witnessed, for more than a year, I was never quite sure what her political leanings were because Harriet demonstrated aspects of conservatism, liberal, moderate along with a fierce independence.  I will always admire her unbounded optimism, pragmatism, tenacity, her passion, her compassion, loyalty to an issue as well as an individual, and her ability to never ever take herself or anyone else too seriously.

Harriet was the ultimate get-it-done public servant and a great friend.  Her example and her challenge to all of us remains as urgent as ever: “Be involved in your world.  It’s important!”

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