It was to be a new beginning for retired Pastor Rick Miller, who had come to Stephenville to act as executive director for the Cross Timbers Pregnancy Care Center. He and wife, Pam, were in the midst of settling into their newly adopted city and his role at the center. Sadly for the center and community he had quickly become devoted to, Miller was killed Thursday morning in a single vehicle accident east of Tolar.
He had been west bound on US 377. After exiting the highway, his car struck a bridge pillar, overturned and caught fire.
Tolar Chief Rodney Cox was the first on the scene and suffered burns to his hands as he attempted to remove Miller from the car that ignited after impact with the pillar.
“I just have minor burns on my fingers,” Cox said Monday morning. “Miller was unconscious. And I made the assumption that he was still alive. But either alive or dead, I wasn't going to let him burn up in that car.”
News of the accident has left the center and the community reeling.
Though Miller had served with the pregnancy care center for less than three months, he has left an indelible impression on those with whom he came into contact.
“He was here with a bunch of women - he was the only man on staff,” Administrative Assistant Athena Dowell said. “But he told us he wanted us to think of him as our granddad. And we knew he really meant it.”
Dowell related Miller's brief time with the center as a rewarding one. She described Miller as one who immediately developed a compassionate rapport with the women and children who came through the center.
“He was so sweet and understanding,” she said. “Such a tenderhearted man. In the midst of trying to figure out everything around here so quickly, he never once complained.”
She spoke of the many phone calls the center has received as news of the accident has spread throughout the community. Despite the brevity of his time in Stephenville, Miller had developed relationships with the people he encountered. And he had a certain shared interest with the community he and his wife had so fully embraced.
“He was excited about getting to know Stephenville,” Dowell said. “And he was looking forward to the football season. He was meeting people and students and loved that we love football like he did.”
Though the center will have to go on without its beloved leader at the helm, Dowell is confident moving forward will take place successfully.
“This is a very strong ministry,” she said. “The Lord has his hand in it. It is very tragic, but all we can do is pull together and put this ministry first, supporting those women and men in our community who are in crisis.”
Lois Burr, board president of the center, expressed her sorrow over the news of Miller's accident. But there has to be a balance between experiencing the grief and meeting the needs of those in the center's care.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family,” she said. “The staff is devastated. He had such a heart for the ministry. He and his wife were excited about being here and fitting in with the community. “
But Burr is also aware the center needs leadership as soon as possible.
“We are going to move forward in the process of hiring a new executive director. We have to take care of our clients as best as we can can,” she said.
Dowell is certain that Miller will be a part of the center even when a new director is in place.
“We are all heartbroken,” she said. “It's still very new to us. Even though Rick was here for such a short time, we appreciate that the Lord brought him to us. He will forever be a part of us. He put his print on this ministry.”
A memorial service for Miller will be held 1 p.m. Saturday at Harvey Baptist Church.