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Former Gov. Miller Remembered At Memorial Service In Pierre

South Dakotans honored former Governor Walter Dale Miller at a memorial service in Pierre Monday. Miller died last week at the age of 89.


Visitors stood in silence in the Rotunda of the Capitol building before a flag draped casket and former Governor Walter Dale Miller’s official portrait. Friend Bob Miller says it’s important to show respect for someone who dedicated his life to the people of South Dakota.

“His legacy will be the takeover following the death of Governor Mickelson, and the way he guided South Dakota through some troubled times and some tough financial times,” Miller says. “He was the leader we needed in that moment.”

Others echoed that sentiment throughout the memorial service. Governor Dennis Daugaard says Miller took the oath of office as Governor during a time of sadness and loss rather than celebration.

Governor Dennis Daugaard speaks at the memorial for former Governor Walter Dale Miller.

“He was the right man at the right time,” Daugaard says. “The seasoned, steady cowboy. Walter Dale Miller was cool in a crisis. And in our sadness, we were reassured knowing he was in charge.”

Governor Miller had more years of experience in elected office than any other South Dakota governor. His grandson, Lance Burma, says Miller wore many hats. But, he says, the one he’s going to remember is the cowboy hat.

“Walt was actually the kind of cowboy who loved his land,” Burma says. “And he cherished his family. And he honored his commitments. And he viewed serving others as his duty. Walt was the kind of cowboy that would kill his own rattlesnake in the backyard if Pat didn’t get the police there first. He was the kind of cowboy that would attack an air mattress in a pool like it was a horse, with one leg on each side. He was the kind of cowboy that insisted on walking from the Governor’s mansion to this building every single day. And when the state needed him, Walt was the cowboy who told you that everything was going to be okay. When our family needed him, he was the cowboy that showed up at just the right time.”

Burma shared Governor Miller’s achievements: securing funding for the creation of the Fighting Stallions Memorial, ending a riot at the state penitentiary, and responding to historic flooding on the Missouri River. Attorney General Marty Jackley says Miller led the state with strength and dignity.

“Whether he was on the ranch, branding and calving, or spending time with Presidents Reagan and Bush, he fit any role,” Jackley says. “Walter Dale truly exemplifies what is great about South Dakota. We are blessed to have known such a friend and a leader. Our cowboy governor has now earned and found his trail home.”

Miller was known as a man of few words. Frank Brost is the former Chief of Staff for Governors Michelson and Miller.

“When he talked, people listened,” Brost says. “So he was a great partner for George Mickelson. And the one thing after he became governor, numerous conversations I had was, ‘What would the governor’ and he always called George Governor, ‘what would he want? We want to complete his agenda, and do what he would have done.' So it’s been my privilege and my pleasure to know him as a friend and a boss.”  

Governor Miller served in the state House of Representatives for 20 years. He returned to visit that body this past February. Representative Mark Mickelson, son of former Governor George S. Mickelson, spoke about the reception.

“I think they understood that for Walter Dale to serve as long as he did, and in as many different positions of distinction, that he was an exceptional man,” Mickelson says. “I think they knew, like my dad did, that Walter Dale was a man of his word, that he was always more concerned about others than himself. They knew that Walter Dale exuded a quiet and steady authority, and was a true leader in every sense of the word. It was these qualities that made Walter Dale such a strong and unselfish partner for my dad, and I know that they made room in rancher’s Heaven for this true gentleman cowboy, and I know that my dad is looking forward to the visit.”

Mickelson talked about the friendship between Miller and his father. Other speakers shared stories of Miller’s loyalty, and his love of faith and family.