Calvin: A Life In Stories: Part 8, Italy

Each Monday for the next several weeks, I will be publishing one section of the biography on my father I created in collaboration with over 30 contributing writers. Each story brings a unique perspective about my father. Last week I shared part 7 of the writing project that focused on my father’s life in Georgia. This week in part 8, the focus is on my father’s life in Italy, where my family moved after he began his work with the United Nations in downtown Rome. Enjoy!


Introduction (here)
Part 1: Ohio (September 12, 1953 – September 1971) (here)
Part 2: Goshen College (September 1971 – June 1973) (here)
Part 3: Bolivia (September 1973 – September 1976) (here)
Part 4: Ohio State (September 1976 – December 1979) (here)
Part 5: Bolivia Redux (January 1980 – July 1992) (here)
Part 6: Pennsylvania (July 1992 – December 1997) (here)
Part 7: Georgia (December 1997 – July 2004) (here)
Part 8: Italy (July 2004 – December 2015) (below)
Part 9: Virginia (December 2015 – Present)

(July 2004 – December 2015)

Italian Millers.jpg

Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations (FAO)
By Emilio Hernandez (FAO Colleague)

I remember the first time I met Calvin. I had just moved to Rome from Vienna, and I was very excited to start a new job with FAO, the Food and Agriculture Division of the United Nations, focusing on advancing rural and agricultural financial markets in developing countries. And part of the reason for having accepted this job was the opportunity to work with Calvin, whom I knew by his well-respected publication on value chain finance, which was among the first to highlight the usefulness of this approach. In addition, I had also heard of him from the network of Ohio State University alumni, to which I also belonged.


So my first day at work was quite exciting, meeting Calvin and starting a process of understanding how FAO works (a process that still continues!). My first impression of him was that of a person with a very nice temperament, something that I realized later was absolutely correct and was extremely helpful when working with development projects and many people. Over the next four years I would have the opportunity to get to know Calvin more and realize some of his virtues from which I learned a lot, both at the professional and personal level.

Soon after starting to work with Calvin, I noted his willingness to share his knowledge and contacts throughout, enabling me to do more impactful work, but also trusting me to take on more responsibility with time. We quickly spent more time working together than with our own families, when I think about it. And during this time I also learned about his strong spirituality, kindness and interest in learning about other cultures.

We also travelled on work trips together to countries like Zimbabwe and Pakistan, where we simply had fun as we shared a passion other culture and for the work of agricultural finance. Another connection grew through watch ASRoma futbol games together. I must say that his fandom is why I became a Roma fan.


Fast forward to 2015 when Calvin retired from FAO and moved to the U.S. to do focus on consulting work with other organizations and being closer to his family. I realize how valuable my experience working with him has been, and I cherish having had the opportunity to work with him. Working with Calvin has helped me find my own niche of work where I feel I can contribute most, and it was in large part due to his willingness to share his experiences, knowledge and vast networks.

I am sure we will continue to be in touch and hopefully have a chance to work together again. Either in Europe, the U.S., or any other part of the world, I hope we can continue to share our passion for our work in this world that looks more and more like an oyster.

The Traveler
By Nathan Miller (Son)

While I would venture that I have already visited more countries than 80% of Americans do in their entire lifetimes, in many ways made possible by having my family move to from the United States to Europe (to work for the U.N. in Rome, Italy) in 2002, when compared to the sheer number visited by my father, it is not even a drop in the bucket. Despite having been traveling internationally since he was in college, and despite having been to anywhere from 80-100 different countries (rough estimate), there was one country that he had yet to check off his list, and it was a big one: Russia.


My dad showed me this digital map one time that he had been using to keep track of all the countries he had been to by marking those he had visited “red”. After showing it to me he turned and said something along the lines of “you know if I just could visit Russia my map would look so much more impressive.” This is very true as Russia by itself is 12 percent of all the landmass on Earth. If my memory serves, this desire of his to cross it off his list so to speak was one of the driving forces that led to him and I going through the surprisingly complex bureaucratic process of getting visas so that we could go and visit it. While I do not particularly enjoy travel and hated all the little steps and other hoops I had to go through to get the visa, I was not about to turn down the chance to visit Russia and get to hang out one on one with my dad.

Normally when I had traveled to places with him, it was in the context of also traveling with other members of my family as well, so I only got to see him interact in a foreign nation in the context of a familial group. On a family trip there were always a couple of things to count on when on vacation; my mom over planning, my dad under planning, and us kids just along for the ride. While this trip to Russia was more or less unplanned, as well in terms of what we were going to do once we arrived, I got to see more of how my dad interacts and fits into his surroundings in a new country.

Though he didn’t necessarily act any differently, I guess it was just easier to envision him having traveled by himself to these endless other places on business, which I found to be entertaining and kind of enlightening. After 40 years of travel, one would expect him to be this super suave and slick traveler who knows all the ins and outs of traveling to new places and being a master tourist, this was not the case. Both Dad and I spent the entire week bumbling along and seeing the sights seemingly at random while also sticking out like sore thumbs to everyone around us, though we did get to see some very cool places such as Lenin’s home and tomb, and we got to see Red Square as they celebrated the 75th anniversary of their victory in World War II.


Throughout all of our travel throughout Moscow it always felt like we didn’t quite fit in with everyone else. I don’t believe there was a Russian anywhere in Moscow who would have mistaken us for Russians from 100 yards out. That is, however, the charm of my dad. No matter where he is in the world, he is always the same person and acts the same way. It is not the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” but rather “When Calvin, do as Calvin does.

Burglar! Burglar!
By Calvin Miller


In December of 2012, my wife Jan and my apartment in Rome was robbed while we were gone for three days after Christmas. I was working at division of the United Nations called FAO, while Jan worked as a school nurse, and we had just taken a short trip outside the city we’d called home for many years now, but when we got home and we were not able to get in, we realized that someone (robbers?) had locked it from inside. Once we finally entered, we saw that our apartment was a disaster zone and we lost quite a bit. And given that the robbers climbed up on a pole and railings to get to our third floor apartment and were only able to take stuff down the same way, this was quite a feat to take so much. I mean, it certainly wasn’t easy using our garden hose to tie and lower our TV off our balcony into the field next door, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Ten days after the initial robbery, Jan and I had a quite a surreal evening. We witnessed six masked robbers in the act of robbing the fourth floor apartment above us at 7:30 PM, including seeing two of them scaling up 40 feet to break in. At the precise time in the evening, we were discussing a security system installation with a security guard after our recent break-in, and just when I opened our patio shutters, I surprised the two scaling burglars right as they were escaping down. I temporarily grabbed one’s leg for a few minutes while some of the burglars on the ground threw rocks at me from below. The burglar I had grabbed kicked and pushed until he escaped and jumped down with a thud, likely injured. It was then that realized we had another burglar temporarily trapped in the apartment above, so we did not allow him to come down, despite the rocks, glass and ceramics being thrown at us. The security guard and I used two wooden folding chairs as shields from the debris. Ultimately, the trapped burglar was able to get down before the police came by breaking out of the above apartment through another patio and using a sheet to shimmy down to our floor and then also jumped, also likely hurt. The robbers on the ground were frantic we would “win” and the police would arrive before he got down so they were doing whatever they could.

So another police report, another firemen rescue to open their door (again locked from inside by robbers) from scaling down from the fifth floor on special ladder.  At least now our apartment owner agrees there may be a security problem. Living in Atlanta, we had known about similar issues with break-ins but thankfully European robbers are not normally armed, just acrobatic gypsies in this case – they were speaking Rumanian). Unlike America, Rome is safe from guns and violence but now less so from theft, especially when living beside a large nature reserve in Rome.

The most amazing part of all of this is in the timing of our inviting a security specialist to do an inspection at that precise time and then my opening the patio blinds and turning on the light at the exact second the one robber was coming down past our patio and Jan, looking that direction as I raised the blinds, yelled — “It’s them, the robbers!”  Also, it was the night before I had scheduled a meeting with our apartment owner to discuss security after our break-in since he had been vehement in refusing to do anything, saying it was our fault. It totally changed his outlook and response.

Oh, when I was grabbing the one robber he said “Ho fame” meaning I’m hungry. It gives more validation to the need for the work our Italian church does with refugees here in Rome.

Attraverso Italia in Bici
(Through Italy by Bike)

By Lucas Miller (Son)

Lucas and Calvin bikes.png

Let me start by saying my dad has always, always, wanted to have a big, multi-day, adventurous biking trip. While we lived in Italy, I’d heard talk of biking up to Germany, around Europe, and all other sorts of lengthy, week-long biking excursions. Finally, my dad came up with a biking adventure and convinced me to join. The trip was planned around my high school spring break. The grand plan was a spring break long cross-Italy biking trip from sea level on the west coast near Rome to sea level on Italy’s east coast in the city of Pescara.

We began the trip by borrowing a road bike from a work friend of my dad’s and packing plenty of padded biking shorts and related biking gear. The first day was easily the most difficult. We pedaled and worked up aggressively steep and winding mountain roads to get from a 0 meter elevation to 1,000 meters. It didn’t help that Italian roads don’t exactly give very much room for bikes. Ultimately, I endured the demanding first day of the expedition by following Dad’s lead.

The most trying and rewarding part of the trip came on the second day. Dad and I came close to peak elevation in the Appenino mountain range. We carefully began our ascent up the mountain and we veered off the main valley road to start the huge climb that lay on the horizon. As we road higher and higher along the side of the mountain, solar panel farms and sheep pastures became a common view and the number of cars dwindled. Pedal by pedal, we slowly reached the highest point of the mountain. There, large wind turbine giants and the last remaining snow patches of the spring greeted us and gave hope that we had bested the mountain.

Calvin Bike Ride.png

The snow also gives an indication of the change in temperature; where we had been comfortable in short sleeves down in the valley, we needed to put on our long sleeves and biking jackets. Now ready for the cold and feeling pretty awesome for having made it to the top, we felt accomplished. That was when the ominous rain clouds decided to enter the scene. As we began our descent, dark storm clouds gathered and began to let out a light shower. Each raindrop was frigid cold. The rain only got heavier as we continued to bike down the other side of the mountain we had just scaled.

The main goal now was: get down the mountain carefully (on the now-slick roads), control our speed as we descend 400+ meters, and not freeze to death in the process. We coasted down the roads and braked constantly to keep from sliding. At one bend, some wonderfully encouraging sheepdogs ran onto the road and barked and growled at us not to stop or step anywhere close to their sheep. We happily obliged as we continued on. Meanwhile, my arms had turned to ice and were frozen into the handle holding position as the rain pelted the thin jacket protection I had on.

To our luck, we did not come across more than one or two cars during the entire descent and we were able to keep our speed controlled and our body temperatures up. Greeting us at the bottom of the steep descent was a little café. We locked up our bikes and entered the café drenched from head to toe. Our gift for our efforts for the day turned out to be a white hot chocolate. The sweetness and heat of the drink was the perfect ending to the challenge we had just faced and beaten.

The trip from there on out proved to be much easier than the first day and the Appenino mountain range. It was mostly downhill from the peak of day two until the sea level at Pescara. We arrived and the beach, took pictures, patted ourselves on the back and proceeded to hop on a train back to Rome. One-way biking was all we had time for in the break.

Calvin and Lucas Bike Ride.png

So there you have it, the first of many big biking trips I took with my dad. Without a doubt, my adventurous father is already planning his (our?) next big bike trip. Perhaps we’ll bike across Italy length-wise, across the whole of Europe, or who knows, maybe something entirely different and unexpected.



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