Former South Dakota Gov. Walter Dale Miller was remembered Monday as a man who remained cool in a time of crisis during a memorial ceremony at the state Capitol in Pierre.
Miller, who would have turned 90 on Monday, died Sept. 28. His flag-draped coffin lay in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol building before he was eulogized by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, state Attorney General Marty Jackley, one of his grandchildren and others.
Miller served as the state’s 29th governor through 1995, taking the oath of office on April 20, 1993, a day after a plane carrying Gov. George Mickelson and seven others went down in eastern Iowa.
“Walter Dale Miller took the oath of office as governor not at a time of celebration as most governors had done, but at a time of sadness and loss,” Daugaard said. “He was the right man at the right time. The seasoned, steady cowboy, Walter Dale Miller, was cool in a crisis, and in our sadness, we were reassured knowing he was in charge.”
The tall, lanky cowboy epitomized the western South Dakota rancher. Miller almost never appeared in public without his cowboy boots. A toothpick often dangled from his mouth, and when he ventured outside, he completed the look with a western-style sport coat and a cowboy hat.
“When the state needed him, Walt was the cowboy who told you that everything was going to be OK. When our family needed him, he was the cowboy who showed up just at the right time,” said Lance Burma, one of Miller’s grandchildren.
Miller was born near the towns of Viewfield and New Underwood on Oct. 5, 1925, and spent his life on his family’s ranch. After attending the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Miller ran the 7,000-acre family ranch and was president of Dakota National Life Insurance Co. from 1970 to 1985.
Miller was a prominent Republican member of South Dakota’s House of Representatives from 1967 through 1986, and he’s the only person in state history to serve as speaker, speaker pro tempore, majority leader, assistant majority leader and majority whip.
When Mickelson won the 1986 gubernatorial race, he made Miller the state’s first full-time lieutenant governor and appointed him chairman of a number of task forces. After the plane crash that killed Mickelson, Miller decided to seek his own term as governor in the 1994 election. He lost in the GOP primary to Bill Janklow, who went on to win another term as governor after previously serving eight years in that role.
Miller’s funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday morning at the Calvary Lutheran Church in Rapid City. Burial will follow at Viewfield Cemetery, near Miller’s Meade County ranch.