Today: Paul Miller, who suffered from what others thought of as a disability and used it to become a leading disability rights activist, attorney and professor.
Born with dwarfism in 1961, Paul grew up in Long Island, NY and was often ridiculed because of his small size. Some kids picked on him and even more laughed at him and there wasn’t much he could do about it.
Paul’s dad was a textile engineer and his mother a school psychologist and they encouraged him to make the most of his abilities and ignore the bigotry.
And Paul did. Being only 4 feet, 5 inches tall didn’t stop him from graduating summa cum laude (from the Latin, “with highest honors”) from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983. Three years later, he graduated from one of America’s most prestigious law schools, the Harvard Law School.
Harvard Law School graduates are usually in demand as law firms and other employers compete to hire them.
Not so for Paul. When he applied for a job, at least 40 law firms rejected him. One law firm turned him away because he later learned; they thought their clients would see him as part of a “circus freak show.”*
Clearly, the snickering and demeaning comments Paul had had to bear as a child continued into his adulthood and from well educated people who should have known better.
Even in the face of this bigotry and rejection, Paul refused to give-up. Eventually with a friend’s referral, he was hired by the 100 lawyer Los Angeles based firm of Kadison, Pfaelzer, Woodard, Quinn and Rossi.
At long last he was a practicing attorney.
Later he joined the high profile Los Angeles law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, which today has 350 attorneys. And Paul also began teaching at UCLA and at Loyola Law School.
In 1990, the year the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, protecting the rights of the disabled, Paul was the director of litigation for Loyola’s disability rights law center.
He then became the Clinton Administration’s liaison to disability organizations. And for 10 years he was a commissioner on the U.S. Government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces the anti-discrimination laws.
Paul also used these prominent governmental positions to recruit other capable disabled people into the Clinton White House, so that they too could have job opportunities there.
In 2004, Paul left the federal government to become a professor at Washington University in Seattle, 3,000 miles from Washington, DC. He did briefly return to Washington, DC for the first nine months of the Obama Administration to again become liaison to disability organizations, and to advise President Obama as he had President Clinton.
For Paul, life was wonderful. In addition to being a professor, lawyer, disability rights activist and a presidential advisor and writer, he was also a devoted family man.
In 1997, while working in the Clinton Administration, he married Jennifer Coletti Mechem, who is hearing impaired and who was the Department of Education’s disability policy coordinator.
The couple had two daughters, Naomi and Delia, the loves of Paul’s life.
But on October 19, 2010, Paul passed away from cancer in their Mercer Island, WA home. He was 49-years-old.
However, he left us with quite a legacy, aside from advising two U.S. presidents on the disabled.
As a teacher, Paul influenced thousands of students and for the disabled, he helped to enforce laws that mainstreamed them into society and helped them to find the rich and fulfilling lives he referenced in his writings.
Success Tip of the Week:
Paul didn’t let bigotry defeat him. He turned the hurt and rejection into making this a better world. If the bigotry of others has held you back, harness that pain and turn it into something constructive for you and for others as Paul did.
*this quote was taken from “Paul S. Miller, Advocate for Disabled, Dies at 49,” from The New York Times, 10/20/10, which was a primary source for today’s story.
In the next KazanToday:
A silent film child star whose real life was far more dramatic than her lovable movie roles.