BANGOR, Maine — Her husband may have thought her a “woman of valor,” but Frieda Miller apparently felt the verses describing an ideal wife from the Book of Proverbs that a husband recites to a wife in a traditional Jewish home didn’t quite fit her.
“Frieda was not the sort of person to sit back and take in this idealized description,” Rabbi Steven Schwartzman said Tuesday afternoon, recounting an episode between Miller and her husband, Abe Miller. “In fact, she would interrupt Abe and say, I’m not so sure I understand this. I only understand recipes.”
Although Miller was known as an exceptional cook, she accomplished many great things in the course of her 96 years, speakers told more than 200 family, friends, former employees, customers, local clergy and city leaders who packed Congregation Beth Israel on York Street for Miller’s funeral.
The founder of what became Miller Drug store died Sunday at the Bangor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, for which she was an ardent advocate and fundraiser during her life.
“Frieda is one of those,” said the Rev. James Haddix of All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor, who also recited some of the “woman of valor” lines during his eulogy. “As she made a place in this world in which we share … I am confident that God has set a place for her in the world to come.”
She was predeceased by Abe Miller, who died in 2003.
Miller Drug was called Frieda Miller’s Variety when she opened the store in 1941 out of necessity. Abe Miller had been in and out of the hospital with an illness and the family needed money, Bangor lawyer Bernard Kubetz recounted Tuesday as he spoke for the family.
The store had a beer cooler at first, but in 1957 the Millers replaced it with a prescription department when their son, Bill, graduated from pharmacy school.
Abe and Frieda Miller dispensed much more than prescriptions, however. Residents went to Frieda Miller whether they were new in town and wanted to make connections, had political aspirations or wanted advice.
Kubetz said he first met Frieda Miller in 1973, when he moved to Bangor from New York. She treated him, Kubetz said, like an adopted son, making sure he had a place to go for holidays and stuffing him with chicken soup and her famous chopped liver.
“Being part of Frieda’s family and being part of her world was a learning experience,” Kubetz said. “She taught me some of the most important things in life. Things like the importance of a good marriage, things like the importance of a good family, and things like the importance of getting a haircut on a regular basis. I had one this week in her honor.”
Miller understood her recipes. She often catered events at the synagogue, served as volunteer chef at the rehabilitation center when she was needed, and sold sandwiches, including chopped liver, at a lunch counter in the store. The lunch counter, however, was not profitable.
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I could never buy a sandwich,” Kubetz said. “She simply gave them away.”
The Millers did something much more important than giving away a sandwich here and there. They also gave away medicine.
“When parents of a sick child would come into the store and needed medicine but couldn’t pay for it, Frieda and Abe’s response would be, ‘Take the medicine now and pay us when you have the money,’” Kubetz said. “This community, Frieda’s community, will never forget this lady of unparalleled passion and chutzpah, a human being who spends her entire life doing mitzvahs, good deeds, for others. She made Bangor a better place for all whose lives she touched.”
Miller exhibited that passion for the causes she believed in, said Haddix, who recounted his colorful and boisterous consultations and conversations over the years with Miller. Some of those causes included Camp CaPella and the Bangor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
She loved a good fight, Haddix said, and favored good, plain-spoken talk over pretense.
“It was possible to turn a conversation with Frieda, but it was a little like turning an aircraft carrier,” Haddix said, prompting laughter from the mourners. “Slow, and it required an awful lot of ocean.”
Miller may not have understood it, but those traits were the reason her husband and others saw the valor in her.
“Frieda Miller was a woman of valor in her home, in her family’s business, in the Bangor community, in this synagogue and in her work to make this world a better place,” Schwartzman said. “Frieda’s family and our community found a woman of valor. May her memory always be with us.”
Miller is survived by three children, nine grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. In addition to Abe Miller, Frieda Miller was predeceased by her parents; her son Max “Mickey” Miller and his wife, Ellen; three sisters and two brothers.