• 3 former presidents speak at former Gov. Zell Miller's funeral

    By: Richard Elliot , Steve Gehlbach

    Updated:

    ATLANTA - A funeral service Tuesday in Atlanta for former Georgia governor and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller featured three former presidents: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.


    Stay with Channel 2 Action News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for complete coverage throughout the week as we remember Zell Miller and his legacy in Georgia and across the country.


    It's the second service following Monday's public memorial attended by hundreds of mourners in Young Harris, Georgia, where Miller died Friday at the age of 86.

    Funeral procession:

    At 7:30 a.m., a procession started from the funeral home in Cumming to the Governor's mansion, where a private viewing took place. 

    Tuesday's Celebration of Life Service at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church took place at 11 a.m. 

    Bryan Miller on Governor Zell Miller:

    Zell Miller’s grandson, Bryan Miller, recalled his grandfather as a “teacher at heart” even amid all his public success in politics. He said his grandfather taught him many lessons learned from his Appalachian childhood through his years as Georgia governor and U.S. senator.

    Miller preceded the three presidents with an emotional speech that included a personal letter that his grandfather wrote to family members in February 2002 when he turned 70. Inside, were 14 lessons he wanted to share with those closest to him.

    President George W. Bush on Governor Zell Miller: 

    Bush opened his speech with a quip, wondering aloud how many governors have had three presidents eulogize their funeral. “He really was one of a kind,” said Bush.

    Then he gave some insight about why he trekked to Atlanta for the memorial.

    “In 2004, Zell stood up to speak for me,” said Bush, invoking his 2004 speech to the Republican National Convention. “Now it’s my honor to speak for him.”

    He talked about how Miller once wore blue jeans to the Atlanta Opera, how he got into politics because of his family’s love of politics, about his 85 percent approval rating after his first term in office. 

    “Take it from me,” said Bush to laughter, “that’s not typical for a politician.”

    The ex-president said Miller asked for no favors or special treatment after he bucked his party to support Bush, aside from a spot on a national battlefield commission. 

    “He never forgot where he came from, or where he’s headed,” he said, adding: “His life is a testament to all that is good, and all that is possible to the country we love.”

    President Jimmy Carter on Governor Zell Miller: 

    Carter, who had an often strained relationship with Miller, nodded to their tumultuous past almost as soon as he took the podium.

    “I’ve been friends with Zell Miller – off and on – for 55 years,” he said to laughs.

    He added: “Zell Miller was very outspoken as you know ... maybe if I got him to speak at my second convention, he would have been elected, too.” 

    Carter said Miller might be the most important governor for education policy in the state’s history, and that the two bonded in later years when they both served on Mercer University’s board. 

    “He was one of the most public servants we’ve ever seen in Georgia,” he said. 

    President Bill Clinton on Governor Zell Miller: 

    Clinton said he felt an immense “personal debt” to Miller, and he recounted a 1991 visit to the governor’s mansion where the two stayed up until 3 a.m. chatting about his presidential ambitions.

    Miller’s advice was two-fold: If you want to run for president, you need to call Paul Begala and James Carville. And you need to give shorter speeches.

    “Well, I took 50 percent of the advice,” he said to chuckles. “So began a long relationship. I never won a primary election until we got to Georgia.” 

    He added: “I not only liked Zell Miller, I admired him.” 

    After the service: 

    At the conclusion of the service, the family traveled to the Georgia Capitol, where Miller will lie in state in the rotunda until a state funeral Wednesday. Gov. Nathan Deal and several of his predecessors are set to speak at that event.

    All these events are open to the public. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Miller Institute Foundation in memory of Zell Bryan Miller.

    Zell Miller's legacy in Georgia:

    Miller is remembered throughout Georgia as architect of an education lottery that has financed pre-kindergarten programs for 1.6 million children cumulatively, with the HOPE Scholarship.

    Miller served as Mayor of Young Harris from 1959-1960. He served as a Georgia State Senator from 1961-1964. He served as Lieutenant Governor of Georgia for 16 years from 1975-1991. He is currently the longest serving Lieutenant Governor in Georgia history. 


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    Miller served as the 79th Governor of Georgia from 1991-1999. As Governor, he also created Georgia’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program. He went on to serve in the U.S. Senate from 2000-2005. 

    Political colleagues remember former US Sen. Zell Miller:

    The death of former Miller brought an outpouring of condolences and remembrances from the statehouse in Atlanta to Capitol Hill in Washington.

    U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who ran against Miller for governor in 1990 and later filled the Senate seat Miller held until he retired at the end of 2004 said nobody was like him.

    "There was nobody quite like him. ... He was a consummate public servant. He was tough, but he was fair. He was a tough Marine all the time," Isakson said.

    Gov. Nathan Deal said Miller's legacy was unequaled. 

    "Zell's legacy is unequaled and his accomplishments in public service are innumerable. Without question, our state and our people are better off because of him," Deal said.

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