The man most credited with spearheading the 1960 efforts that made Rappahannock County what it is today – that is, very much as rural and breathtaking as it was back then – passed away on Saturday.
Jackson Newbill Miller was 77, and had been ill for some time. He was a lifelong resident of Rappahannock who graduated from Washington High School in 1953 and Virginia Polytechnic Institute (as Virginia Tech was known then) in 1957. After a tour in the Army in Germany, he returned to his home, a place he loved, as anyone who knew him will tell you, with a rare enthusiasm – and, especially, commitment.
What distinguished him – especially among those who’ve witnessed the changes brought about by population growth that began in the 1960s in adjacent counties and east to Big Washington – is the steps he took to protect what he loved.
“He was my first mentor in local government, and my best example of a man who felt that a person’s civic duty was never discharged,” said Rappahannock County Administrator John McCarthy. “Dedicated, forthright and tireless.”
McCarthy came to work in Rappahannock during Miller’s second tour of duty as a county supervisor, in the 1980s. Miller’s first tour started in 1964, when he became the youngest-ever chairman of the board of supervisors at the age of 28. He would go on to serve on the planning commission, school board and the Washington Town Council. He was twice elected mayor of Washington, the town where Ginger Hill Angus, the farm he helped his father start in 1959, is still located, and where his three sons and their families continue to win national recognition for their Angus breeding operations.
His son Jay Miller remembers his dad was a Boy Scout troop leader and a Little League baseball coach. He was also an avid fox hunter as a teen and young man.
Bill Fletcher remembers going on a fox hunt with Newbill Miller when Fletcher was five years old, and that Miller, who loved baseball, also helped him, and many others, learn to play the game. In his prime, Fletcher said, Miller was “a powerful man both physically and mentally” and “a great gentleman.”
It was on the county planning commission that Newbill Miller made his presence felt most.
His father was a believer in “large lot development with growth centered around villages,” Jay Miller said. “Chester Gap was the wakeup call,” he added, noting that two late-1950s subdivisions, originally marketed as vacation properties in the high-mountain community near the Warren County line, began selling unexpectedly well – and causing problems.
In an article for the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star in 2001, Newbill Miller told writer Donnie Johnston: “There was no suitable situation for septic systems on some of the lots and they put in roads – some were just trails – that the state would not take over because they were not built to VDOT standards.”
As subdivisions began multiplying in Warren, Culpeper and Fauquier counties back then, Miller and several other county leaders decided to act. Long before most area jurisdictions, Rappahannock’s supervisors enacted the county’s first zoning laws – in 1962.
They managed to get the more restrictive large-lot development requirement passed. At the time, not everyone thought that was a great idea.
Jay Miller remembers his dad getting “some nasty anonymous letters” against it.
But, “if you look at the way the county is now it could have ended up like Culpeper and Warrenton,” the son said. “At this point we could have been stuck with the population (growth) and no industry.
“People are coming to Rappahannock County not for development purposes, they’re coming for the beauty,” he added. “It’s something that you can come 60 to 70 miles from D.C. and not see a traffic light, just a flashing light. There are no interstates or rail and no fast-food restaurants.”
His father, Jay said, “had a deep desire to preserve Rappahannock County.” And he “treated everyone equally. He didn’t believe in a class structure. It wasn’t like he didn’t know you because of the color of your skin or your status in life. I’ve heard that from a great number of people. I think he was respected for his honesty and integrity and being a man of the people.”
Were it not for Newbill Miller, Fletcher said, “Rappahannock County would not be what it is today.”
Miller is survived by his wife, Carolyn Beard Miller, and children Jackson N. Miller Jr., William Hodgkin and Karolyn Miller, Dr. D. Brooke and Ann Miller, and nine grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 2) at Trinity Episcopal Church in Washington.