(From Viva Cuernavaca -- the Authority on Cuernavaca, Mexico; posted Nov. 26, 2011)
Anthony O'Neill "Tony" Miller has succumbed to the prostate cancer that pained him for years. Tony passed quietly in his sleep at his home, here in his beloved Cuernavaca, Mexico on Nov. 22, 2011.
Tony was a friend to many here in Cuernavaca, his childhood home of Baltimore, and to those with whom he worked during his 30-plus years as a journalist the world over and as a teacher here in Cuernavaca for seven years. His many friends at "The Table" at La Universal and Los Arcos Restaurants in the Zocalo will surely be saving a chair for him each day.
He claimed Newcastle West (County Limerick) Ireland as his first home (and thus was an excellent story teller) and later in Baltimore, Md. Tony was proceeded by his mother, Brenda Smith Miller, his father J. O'Neill Miller, and his brother Martin O. Miller. He is survived by Mark O. Miller and his wife Marsha, Mary Dorsheimer and husband Jack, Krista Nordhoff and husband Fred, Scott O. Miller and wife Carole, Kelly O. Miller, and Laurie Saxon and husband Gary; also surviving 19 nieces and nephews and 2 great-nieces and nephews.
It was in Baltimore that he attended Loyola High School (Class of 1961) and later at Loyola College (Class of 1965), that he received his primary education. In a recent obituary for Father McGonigal, who taught Tony during his years at Loyola, he had this to say:
"I'm a long, profoundly fallen-away Irish Catholic. But I am proud of my eight years of Jesuit education at Loyola High and Loyola College. Despite the shortcomings of both, I learned to think for myself, and did so for 30 years as a professional newsman."
Tony was a "retired" prize-winning journalist, editor and reporter for wire services and newspapers worldwide. He spent 30 years in the trenches in 26 countries (as he referred to his news career) as an editor, reporter and war correspondent.
He won the Council of Europe's equivalent of America's Pulitzer Prize for stories he wrote, and also won first prize in California journalism, among other accomplishments, including co-authoring a book. He had the equivalent of doctorates in History and in Psychology. Tony stated that love kept him from finishing theses in either.
Tony was an eclectic lover of all kinds of music except Northern Mexican Ranchero, which he claimed was "heavy on the umpah-umpah brass and accordion" and American RAP, which he consider merely noise with "it's sound, full of fury – angry, disrespectful, misogynistic -- signifying nothing."
He was an avid reader, often reading several books simultaneously. He lamented having to recently sell his set of Steinbeck first editions to support his rising medical costs.
He was diagnosed with severe prostate cancer after spending six glorious years teaching history, geography and English (literature and language) in Cuernavaca. Due to his natural story-teller style, which made his classes more animated and interesting than the usual one-page-ahead-of-the-kids teaching techniques, he ingratiated himself to his many students. He taught senior high school in the states (both to deaf kids and to hearing kids -- some of whom were huge disciplinary problems. But, Tony fixed that eventually, too! Some of his students went on to become editors of their own newspapers.
In April 2008, with his prostate cancer worsening, Tony made the difficult decision to leave friends behind to return first to Baltimore and then to Portland, Ore., seeking additional medical support.
Tony was drawn to Portland by an only-in-Oregon-law that enables terminally ill patients to obtain lethal prescriptions once their life expectancy falls below six months.
"It all depends on the level of pain," Tony said in an interview with the Seattle Times, "When it gets to the point when the medication is not working and life is grim -- I will make my final decision."
Tony was deeply affected by the 1999 cancer death of his younger brother, Martin, who despite hospice care, still suffered through great pain at the end. He hoped that the Death with Dignity Act could help him avoid a similar fate.
Then, 65-year old, Tony made a one-room apartment what he thought would be his final home. Tony spent his days in a towel-draped chair, heavily medicated and sweating profusely as prostate cancer spread through his body. Over and over again, he changed out of drenched T-shirts and shorts, put them on a hanger to dry and then returned to his chair to sweat some more.
Separated from friends in Mexico, Tony was lonely and wondered if he had enough time and strength to make a final visit south of the border. Tony read books, e-mailed friends and survived on a modest diet of Lean Cuisine microwave dinners and canned soups.
Once doctors could certify he had less than six months to live, Tony intended to secure the lethal prescriptions.
"I am doing all I can to stay alive and prolong my life up to the point where my life becomes nothing but physical agony," Tony said. "With the Death with Dignity Act, I feel safe."
He missed his beloved Cuernavaca, his friends and the peace and serenity he had found here. And life handed Tony a gift in the form of a second chance. In December 2008, he wrote friends in Cuernavaca the good news:
"I am returning to Cuernavaca, to live out the gift of extra years just given to me, no later than this coming mid-May, 2009, following prostate cancer treatment -- and the mysterious (miraculous?) disappearance of related bone cancer (my doctors are gob-smacked; they cannot explain it!) -- in the USA this past year."
In March 2009, after having beat back both bone- and prostate cancer to tolerable remission levels after 14 months of treatment in the states, Tony returned to the land and city of his heart. Thus, he lived out his final years here as was his original plan.
It was at "The Table," when it was at La Universal Restaurant that I first encountered Tony. I did not speak to him or any of the Gringo gentlemen that day. I was in town for only a few days, seeking a place to live out my years, just as Tony had done before me. Tony had "retired" from journalism and returned to Mexico to live out his final years -- to, in his words:
"Come back and enjoy the precious treasures of the Mexican people, the Mexican culture that I had first encountered in my year of living in Mexico back in 1973-1974. I spent a year traipsing about the country, with a rucksack, mosquito net and hammock -- sleeping in the woods or the jungle, when possible; sleeping in cheap hotels or pensions when not literally in or close to the major pre-Hispanic ruins throughout Mexico. I was trying to put 'flesh' on the information about Mexico's history that I'd gotten from books in the USA. I spent that year visiting the most important pre-Hispanic ruins from Tula, Hildalgo through to Oaxaca; through to Veracruz; through to Guatemala; and into Guatemala."
It was there at La Universal Restaurant, while sipping a cup of wonderful Mexican coffee that I noted the Gringo gentlemen sitting together at another table. It was obvious that they were retired, not from the shocks of white hair or their lack of hair, but from the conversations that I was privy to that day. It was a lively conversation of current politics and reminiscing of the past. They were a lively group indeed. And, I so wanted to be a part of that group, that I knew that I would indeed return to Cuernavaca to live out my own final years. I owe the fact that I am here today to Tony and the impression he made on me that day. Thank you and may you find a computer in Heaven, "unshelve your bottle of electronic ink" to continue your journalistic endeavors!
He was a great man who took interest in educating others past the general facts. He spent the last years in Cuernavaca teaching children and they admired him deeply. Tony was loved by all who took the time to know him, and he will be missed by so many. His many interests and endeavors needed to chronicled so that it will matter that Tony existed, and to that end we have built a permanent online memorial to Tony where we are placing examples of his writings. You will find, within the postings there, an insight into the man that Tony was.