11/12/2013 2:54PM

Equine attorney Harry Miller dies at 89


Harry Miller was one of the most prominent attorneys in the nation practicing equine law, but he did much more than that, helping guide racetracks, becoming a leader in the Democratic Party in Kentucky, and teaching Sunday school for decades.

He had his hand in a lot of things because Miller was one of the best attorneys in Lexington and his services highly sought, in and out of law. Miller also liked to talk and could spin tales with the best of them, his mind sharp and active years after his retirement. Time caught up with Miller on Monday, and he died at the age of 89. He would have been 90 on Jan. 4.

Miller went to the University of Kentucky law school on the GI Bill, without having completed college, that being interrupted by service in the Army. He came out of the Army after four years as a captain and was part of the military police.

Miller was a member of the law firm Miller, Griffin & Marks in Lexington, having joined his father in that practice. His son and grandson would later join that firm, making it four generations of Millers.

In practicing equine law, Miller represented such owners and breeders as Leslie Combs II, John Gaines, and E. Barry Ryan, and after their passing would regale friends with tales about them, such as the time a veterinarian wanted to move several stallions from Gainesway and pulled a gun on Gaines and told him the horses were leaving or else.

Miller, not shy of a fight, loved to tell the story of when he went up against George Steinbrenner on behalf of a client who felt she was being unfairly treated in a horse partnership with Steinbrenner, and he forced Steinbrenner to play by his rules, much to Steinbrenner’s consternation, and they dispersed all their partnership horses at a Fasig-Tipton auction in the late 1980s.

And Miller would tell of the time he went down to city hall and got a marriage license on behalf of Santa Anita racing executive Frank “Jimmy” Kilroe because Kilroe could not make it into Lexington on time, and was successful, though he looked nothing like Kilroe, nor had any identification. He had represented Kilroe’s wife to be, Martha, in a divorce from owner-breeder E. Barry Ryan.

Miller said he knew nothing about racing, but he was hired to run the Red Mile, a Standardbred track in Lexington, for seven years.

He was the treasurer of the Democratic Party in Kentucky for eight years, helping influence events at the highest level in the state, and helped run the successful gubernatorial campaign of Bert Combs in 1959. When John F. Kennedy came to the state to campaign for president, Miller was there to greet him, and later, after Kennedy’s election, Miller was asked to take a position in the Justice Department, but Miller declined, wanting to remain in Lexington to raise his family.

Miller also was prominent in University of Kentucky sports, representing former basketball coach Joe B. Hall. Miller would tell how he was hired after Hall, then an assistant to legendary coach Adolph Rupp, took a job in the late 1960s to coach St. Louis University. As soon as Hall got back home, he regretted the move and enlisted Miller to get him out of the contract.

The pair drove back to St. Louis, and Miller had two letters written and in hand when they arrived: one thanking St. Louis for allowing Hall out of his contract, the other saying he regretted that he could not fulfill the contract and would be out of coaching for a year. Hall was allowed out of the contract. Ten years later, as coach of UK after Rupp retired, Hall led UK to a national championship.

chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Given Mr Millers' age and his Army service, I must include him in our greatest generation.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
Mark was very close to Harry for a very long time. How hard it must have been to pull this piece together at a moment's notice, when, with time, he might have written a book. ... Before we left Lexington this past spring, Mark played poker with Harry every other Monday night, and as a couple, we enjoyed some highly pleasurable dinners together in recent years ... highlighted by Harry's marvelous story-telling--all pulled from the pages of his remarkable life. Mark was fortunate to have spoken with him by phone last week, just days before he passed--a good conversation on both ends. Harry Miller enjoyed a long, colorful, and esteemed existence; he was someone truly worth admiring. It's hard to say that a man of nearly 90 years has "gone too soon," but in the case of Harry, that's the absolute truth.
Marilyn More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful man Mr. Miller must have been. When someone you love and admire passes away it is always too soon. My mother was 102 and that was too soon!
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
So true, Marilyn. ... How wonderful that you had your mom for so long! Mine was 68 when she passed some 30 years ago, and I miss her still.