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Friends, colleagues mourn loss of lawyer and civic leader

‘One of those guys who just lived and bled Baltimore’

Decatur H. “Deke” Miller III, a former chairman of Piper & Marbury, the Equal Justice Council and the Greater Baltimore Committee’s board of directors, died Monday of complications from lung cancer. He was 82.

Deke Miller

Decatur H. “Deke” Miller III

Mr. Miller, a Baltimore native, joined Piper as an associate in 1959 and stayed there until his retirement in 1995, aside from a one-year stint as Maryland securities commissioner in 1962. He became managing partner of Piper in 1974 and chairman in 1987. Even after his retirement from the firm, now known as DLA Piper U.S. LLP, he continued to serve as a partner emeritus.

“He was my mentor and teacher and hero, as he was to many others,” said Paul A. Tiburzi, managing partner of DLA Piper’s Baltimore office, in an email. “He will sorely be missed by all of us here.”

Friends and colleagues praised Mr. Miller’s civic involvement in a variety of organization and causes.

“Deke is one of those guys who just lived and bled Baltimore,” said Charles P. Scheeler, senior counsel at DLA Piper, who worked under Mr. Miller as a summer associate in 1979. “He did his share, and so much more, to make this a great community to live in.”

Mr. Miller served on the GBC’s board from 1988 through 1996, serving as chairman in 1993. He was actively involved in the Equal Justice Council, the fundraising arm that Maryland Legal Aid created in 1997, and served as chairman of its board until 2004. He also served as board chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Enoch Pratt Free Library.

He was one of the founders and a longtime board members of the CollegeBound Foundation, which assists public school students with getting into college.

“He was a warm and generous person who did not like to draw attention to himself,” added University of Baltimore President Kurt L. Schmoke, who first met Mr. Miller in the early 1970s while a summer clerk at Piper & Marbury. “We’ve lost a really great citizen of our community, but his contributions will be long-lasting.”

Schmoke was mayor in 1988 when he worked with Mr. Miller to establish CollegeBound. The organization has since helped more than 50,000 students complete college applications and find funds to attend college, in addition to giving millions of dollars in scholarship money. Mr. Miller was an early proponent of public-private partnerships, according to Schmoke, which he used to help bring the foundation off the ground.

“He was the pied piper on that project,” Schmoke said.

Mr. Miller served as chairman and vice chairman of the foundation’s board of directors in the 1990s and remained a board member emeritus until his death.

“He was a true gentleman and a real pillar of the community,” said Cassie Motz, the foundation’s executive director. “He gave so much back to our city.”

Mr. Miller helped found the Equal Justice Council, whose members served as ambassadors to the community stressing the importance of access to justice.

“He was one of the old-fashioned citizen lawyers, who viewed being a lawyer as more than a way to make money,” said Andrew Jay Graham of Kramon & Graham P.A. in Baltimore, who succeeded Mr. Miller as board chairman. “He really was a wonderful class act.”

In the late 1990s, Mr. Miller led the GBC’s efforts to create a community court to streamline prosecution and sentencing of nuisance-crime offenders. Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the GBC, said described the court’s creation as a “complicated process with disparate interests.”

Mr. Miller “was an incredible stabilizing force throughout the process,” Fry said. “He was just a tremendous consensus builder.”

He also served as a longtime director of the Empower Baltimore Management Corp., which was founded to help economic development in the city’s poorest areas.

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of The Abell Foundation and an Empower Baltimore director, noted Mr. Miller spent much of his retirement years helping those less fortunate he was.

“He was always a model for me of someone who wanted to improve the community,” said Embry, who knew Mr. Miller for more than 50 years. “He was one of our leading citizens for a half-century.”

Mr. Miller is survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Sally Burnam Smith; his daughter and son-in-law, Clemence Mary Katherine Miller and Lyle Buck Kissack; a grandson, Ramsey Decatur Kissack; and his brother, L. Vernon Miller Jr., according to the GBC.

The family is planning to have a remembrance gathering around his birthday, June 29, according to the GBC.