Inspired to enter the field of politics during President John F. Kennedy’s campaign, Melody J. Miller began her career as a volunteer with the 10th District Democratic Headquarters. Only a year later, in her senior year at Yorktown High School, she worked for Congressman Montoya, who became a senator, on Saturdays in his office on Capitol Hill. While stuffing envelopes and canvassing neighborhoods for a candidate, she realized she wanted to pursue a lifelong career in the field and attended the Atlantic City Democrat Convention, where she had the opportunity to meet Robert Kennedy. Initially, she gained valuable expertise working for Sen. Robert Kennedy. She was then invited to meet President Kennedy at the White House, which cemented the direction of her entire life. Ms. Miller further flourished as a press assistant in the press section of the campaign headquarters for his presidential campaign in 1968. Before that, she was his receptionist. It was with Edward Kennedy’s Senate staff that she rose to those higher positions of authority.
Throughout her career, Ms. Miller has assisted with press inquiries regarding the day-to-day business of the Senate, supported the needs of the press section at campaign headquarters, and handled the press for John F. Kennedy Jr.’s wedding and the weddings of Sen. Kennedy and Victoria Reggie and his children, Ted Jr. and Kara, among others. With plenty of knowledge at her disposal, she has spoken at Texas State University, the Penn State Forum and the Penn State Alumni Association. Moreover, Ms. Miller has been interviewed by PBS Station and television documentaries about the Kennedys.
Notably, Ms. Miller was to be Sen. Kennedy’s legislative assistant for the reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act. She staffed him in the Senate chamber, on the Senate floor, for the debate and the votes on all the amendments, and the passage of the final bill. Thereafter, women were finally allowed to become legislative assistants and enter the Senate chamber on the floor level. As a legislative assistant, she did the preparatory work and met with all the supportive organizations to be fully informed on all aspects of endangered species issues, so as to advise the senator on which way to vote on any amendments that might surprisingly come out of leftfield. Ms. Miller is proud of that and of the fact that Edward Kennedy was considered the best and most accomplished senator, having gotten more legislation he sponsored enacted into law than any other senator.
To this day, Ms. Miller excels as a source for checking on accuracy and facts about political life for people in the television and film industry. She was a contact and friend willing to discuss matters and help clarify, or point in the right direction to find what was needed. For this, Ms. Miller never accepted payment.
Even though she technically retired from Sen. Kennedy’s staff in 2005, Ms. Miller was chosen to be interviewed by the Miller Center staff for the taping of the oral history they were doing about Sen. Kennedy, as well as the taped interviews they were doing with him. Due to her 40-year association with the famous political family, she also continues to function as an institutional memory for her fellow Kennedy staff colleagues and members of the National Press Club. Ms. Miller is additionally active as a liaison for former staff, media and associates of President and Sen. Kennedy.
In the late 1960s, Ms. Miller earned a Bachelor of Arts in secondary education in social studies from Pennsylvania State University. She also kept in touch with teaching by annually speaking to high school government classes at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, and student groups such as Close-Up at Capitol Hill. During her spare time, Ms. Miller has also spoken to the Pennsylvania State Alumni Association and was honored among the 22 Outstanding Alumni of the College of Education at Pennsylvania State University, as well as was honored to be asked to serve on the first Pennsylvania State Library development and advisory board. She feels most honored that the Special Collections Division of the library has asked for all her autographed books, and other historic items and memorabilia from her career, that otherwise might end up online.
One of the most special honors in Ms. Miller’s life was being chosen to have a plaque on the wall of the Yorktown High School Wall of Fame and Inspiration, alongside other distinguished graduates. Looking toward the future, she aims to remain helpful to the Kennedy family in any way she can. Recently, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend requested for Ms. Miller to be on the committee to help with the planning of a celebration of Robert Kennedy’s life on the 50th anniversary of his loss, and she was happy to handle the press to be of help.
Ms. Miller felt so much satisfaction trying to help others. She had the opportunity to chat with various extraordinary people, such as the Royal Canadian Police, Native Americans, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King’s family, Jane Goodall, Nobel Prize winners and heads of state, among several others. Significantly, she has a very special memory of being hugged by James Stewart after a meeting in their office about preventing the colorization of classic black and white films. When Ms. Miller met him again in the hallway, she told him that earlier she had forgotten to tell him that he was her favorite Republican. He gave her a hug and put his arm across her shoulders as she walked with him down the hall to the elevators.
Ms. Miller attributes much of her success to her mother, Dorothy Chittenden Miller, who was an office nurse for several different doctors over the years and really was the “wind beneath her wings.” Her father was director of voluntary services at the Veteran’s Administration, and traveled a lot to various VA hospitals to check on them and speak. She also thanks her college advisor, Dr. John E. Searles, who was like having an “Oxford Don” and with whom discussion about her thoughts on various subjects was always stimulating. Ms. Miller’s eighth-grade government teacher, and later mentor at Yorktown High School, Sara Jane Blakemore Knight, remains a friend to this day and was always full of encouragement in high school and beyond. Lenore Donnelly, who worked in the White House with President Kennedy as Dave Powers’ assistant, was always ready to get answers she needed about the Kennedy administration on short notice and remains a dear friend, as does her son. Finally, she thanks Ted Sorensen and Pierre Salinger.