THE IDEA:  We have all been disappointed by lies, half-truths and underperforming leaders and cultures.  I have personally experienced so-called “purpose driven” companies who’ve treated their employees and stakeholders like dirt.  I’ve watched pastors and preachers who have been more focused on their personal brand and ego than caring for people in need. I have counseled leaders who talk a big game about culture while they manage others in a spirit of fear and control.  There are a lot of leaders that talk a big game, but their lives tell us a different story.


Dr. Marilyn T. Miller was an iconic pediatric ophthalmologist practicing at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Dr. Miller also held the honor of being the first female president of both the American Ophthalmological Society and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

Dr. Miller was a trail blazer and led by a deep compassion for preventing blindness and visual impairment of children in underserved regions of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.  After visiting Nigeria almost 30 years ago, something ignited her that guided this work for almost three decades, covering 10 countries, including mentoring younger international pediatric ophthalmologists around the world.

To further champion the need for education and improved standards of care in the developing world, she established and chaired the Academy’s Committee on International Ophthalmology and served for many years as one of the Academy’s representatives to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Dr. Miller was a true thought leader, but nothing was ever below her.  In Lagos Nigeria she once jumped on the back of a small motorcycle driving the dangerous backroads to deliver a prescription after a young mother forget it at the makeshift clinic.  Dr. Miller recently died at the age of 88 and was still working up till 24 months ago.

Big Moo, as her family called her, loved ice cream, playing cards, jazz music and dancing.  She was a single parent for years after her first husband died of cancer when her three children were very young.  Big Moo was my Mother-in-law, coffee drinking partner, and one of the purest servant leaders I have experienced. I have never known anyone to work as hard and care as deeply for others she barely knew. She taught me that real service is from the heart, it comes at a cost, and is contagious.

Dr. Marilyn Miller working with a community of children in Nigeria in the 1990’s.


According to Gallup, 4-in-5 leaders are not perceived well by their teams.  Most of us underperform as leaders, but Dr. Marilyn Miller was different.  The younger doctors she mentored loved her and were inspired by her service.

What did she teach me?

Through her medical and teaching practice she modeled the first responsibility of a leader is to operate with love.  The last is to connect emotionally with others. In between the two, the leader must mentor the next generation who will one day take over.

Marilyn taught me that leaders are stewards of the vision, values, and associates they have been given.  She modeled for me that leaders never dispense pain on others; they absorb the pain of others.

Whether we realize it or not every leader leaves a legacy.  When Dr Miller walked into the medical office children felt relaxed and were seen. She taught me that leaders are contagious, and they create an aura every time they walk into a room.

Dr. Marilyn Miller mentored everyone who approached her, and she deliberately planted seeds in the next generation under her guidance.   She attracted diverse associates and allowed them the space, freedom and coaching to thrive.  There was a grace she offered her students, associates, and her patients. She was a healer.

Dr. Marilyn Miller (Big Moo) in Action.


Dr. Marilyn Miller endured for 60 years stepping away at the age of 86 two years before she passed. Some people can rise to a moment or even a season.  Only missional leaders endure for over 6 decades in a dynamic, volatile world.  Servant leaders build up the next generation and are known for who they mentor.

Big Moo was a passionate leader that left a dent in our culture and improved the lives of thousands of children and younger doctors around the world. I miss her dearly.