Rest in Peace, Brian Miller

“My name is Brian Miller, and I am totally blind, and I love to travel, to explore, to be in motion. I love the thrill of departure, and the comfort of coming home. I’ve visited more than 65 countries on six continents so far, many of them dozens of times, over several decades.”

“I don’t think of myself as brave, or a risk-taker… But I also like to challenge myself, to deliberately put myself in strange places and force myself to puzzle my way out, or into wherever it is I need or want to go. Problem solving keeps me sharp, and brings me contentment and satisfaction, even as it also brings frustration and annoyance at times.”

“There are more places to visit than one can ever hope to get to in one lifetime. Beyond the mountains are more mountains.”

From Brian’s travel blog

“He was 52 and otherwise healthy. He was a friend to me and beloved by many all over the world. The world is a better place for having had him in it, and it is a poorer place for his absence.”

A friend writing about Brian after his death from COVID-19

“For him, this is yet another adventure, and I can just imagine him right now, sitting on an outdoor beer garden in heaven, turning to his neighbor and saying, ‘you know the interesting thing about heavenly beer is…’

Another friend writing about Brian

 The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our routines, and for many of us, our livelihoods. But the illness may still seem impersonal, that is, until it affects your born or chosen family. Earlier this week, my disabled family lost a vital member, a mentor, leader, scholar, and friend.

Brian was among the first wave of blind chhildren to attend public schools in the United States. He studied political science and history, completing a doctoral dissertation titled “Speaking for Themselves: The Blind Civil Rights Movement and the Battle for the Iowa Braille School” in 2001. But instead of working in academia, he served as a program analyst for the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Besides his passion for travel, he loved good books, good beer, and good company.

I first met Brian when I joined the National Federation of the Blind at the age of 18, but for many years we were mainly email acquaintances. Four years ago, though, Brian came to a brunch with some mutual friends. At the time, my husband and I were considering a move to Washington, DC, and Brian offered to help us get to know the area. Once our move was confirmed, I called Brian several times, overwhelmed by all the options of places to live and an entirely new transit system. Brian helped calm my nerves as he shared his insider knowledge of the area. When we arrived, while we were still living out of our suitcases, Brian invited us over for a dinner party. We had few other friends or family in the area, and it was powerful to feel so welcomed.

One thing that intimidated me most about DC was using the subway. I didn’t grow up around trains, and they had always made me a little nervous. A bus will stop in time if you get too close, or wait for you to board, but trains and subways have less control, plus their loud whistles and locomotives just kind of sound like impending doom. When I asked Brian how a blind person could safely, independently board the metro, he just said, “Oh, it’s no big deal. Just run your cane along the side of the train until you find the door. I do that all the time.” It sounded silly, but sure enough, I tried it and it worked. With his confidence, my fears gradually subsided.

In the hours after his death, my Facebook feed was flooded with similar stories. Friends whom Brian welcomed, mentored, and touched over the years. Tributes to his kindness, his wit and sense of humor, his intelligence, curiosity and adventure. The day after his passing, Brian was featured on the front page of the Washington Post.

Make no mistake, Brian’s death was a tragic loss for our community. But, I find some peace in knowing that his legacy will live on in the lives of everyone he touched, around the world.

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