Paul E. Miller, founder of the Paul Miller Ford auto dealership in Lexington, died Friday of natural causes at Baptist Health Center in Lexington. He was 92.
"This is a sad day for us as a family and for the many people who had the opportunity to know my grandfather," said J.P. Miller Jr., Paul Miller Autogroup president and general manager. He said his grandfather "will be dearly missed by his family, friends and the many people throughout Central Kentucky whose lives he touched. He leaves an unparalleled legacy of giving back to the community and of making the future brighter for many."
Born Jan. 1, 1922, Mr. Miller was a native of Middleport, Ohio, and he became a salesman early. At age 14, he began hawking newspapers on a street corner in Charleston, W.Va., and he worked his way up to district manager.
He entered the Army Air Corps as a cadet and was a pilot instructor during World War II, flying planes including the P-51 Mustang and the B-29 Superfortress.
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After the war, Mr. Miller began selling cars for a Charleston dealership. In 1953, he was asked to open one in Lexington and became president and general manager.
At the time, Chevrolet outsold Ford by 2 to 1 in Fayette County. Mr. Miller set to work to change that. Two years later, Mr. Miller bought the owner's share of the dealership at 255 East Main Street and changed its name to Paul Miller Ford.
By 1965, the business had outgrown Main Street, so Mr. Miller bought 6 acres at 975 New Circle Road, near the intersection with Winchester Road, which at that time was outside the city limits. He hired Lexington architect Helm Roberts to design the building and its iconic white roof, which still stands.
Ford wasn't pleased, according to Mr. Miller. In a Herald-Leader article in 2012, he told a reporter: "They turned thumbs down. They said it was a terrible location; customers wouldn't go that far out of town. I said, 'That's tough, because I've already bought it.'"
By 1970, Mr. Miller was outselling two Chevrolet dealerships in town, according to his company. He added a Mazda dealership and a host of auxiliary businesses to his automotive empire. He was honored many times by Ford and other dealers for his success.
Bob Quick, president and CEO at Commerce Lexington Inc., said Miller "was a giant in the car industry."
Although Mr. Miller worked at the dealership into his 90s, he wasn't a well-known public figure, in part because of his marketing strategy of using University of Kentucky basketball coaches.
Beginning with Adolph Rupp, Paul Miller Ford supplied cars to the coaches. Then, with Rick Pitino, the company began putting the coach in its commercials, a tactic that took off.
Mr. Miller founded the Paul Miller Ford Foundation, which provides college scholarships. He also founded the Bluegrass Cerebral Palsy Child Development Center and served on boards for many community organizations, including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Junior Achievement, the Salvation Army, the President's Council for Transylvania University, and Midway College. He also was a fellow at the University of Kentucky.
He also owned Thoroughbred horses.
Jack Kain, owner of Jack Kain Ford in Versailles, knew Mr. Miller for nearly 50 years and said he will leave an indelible mark.
"He's done so much for our community all over Lexington," Kain said. "He's been one of the top Ford dealers in the United States. He's well-respected by Ford and all the Ford personnel. Our prayers go out to Paul and his family — they're just really pillars of the community of Lexington."
Mr. Miller is survived by his wife, Judy; a son, John Paul Miller Sr.; a daughter, Beverly Ann Stuck of Jacksonville, Fla.; two stepchildren, Wilson Sebastian III and Emory Keller Sebastian, both of Lexington; five grandchildren, Clark Stuck, Leigh Miller Fisher, Mary Ashley Miller, John Paul Miller Jr. and Taylor O'Neill Miller; eight great-grandchildren; and a brother, Dr. John Miller.
Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington.
Burial will be at Lexington Cemetery under the direction of Milward-Broadway Funeral Directors. Memorials may be made to Hospice of the Bluegrass.