Bangor lost an icon with the death of Sanford “Sonny” Miller. The wide sweep of his friendship and influence could be seen in the gathering of 300 at the funeral service Monday at Congregation Beth Israel. They included his family, business and professional people, former customers and employees of his landmark restaurant on Main Street.
Rabbi Steven Schwarzman rightly described Sonny as a man driven to the pursuit of perfection in his business: “He treated people with integrity and with compassion, teaching generations of employees and his own children a work ethic that he himself lived.”
And when Sonny’s cousin Bill Miller asked former employees of Miller’s Restaurant to stand, Gov. John Baldacci joined the family members and others who had worked there. “He worked with everyone — people of all faiths and politics — for the benefit of the community,” the governor said.
City councilor and broadcaster Hal Wheeler recalled to friends that he once was seated in a booth with Sonny and manager Jack Hoffman when a waitress dropped a tray of dishes. Mr. Hoffman said, “That’s the second time she’s done that. I’m going to fire her.” Sonny calmly said, “ Don’t fire her. Teach her to do better.”
The rabbi also told an example of Sonny’s kindness. The Miller children had told him that when they had been naughty they used to wait up until he came home from the restaurant. “Sonny would come upstairs and whisper to the children to yell as if he were spanking them for the benefit of their mother, Lorraine, who was downstairs. The kids would holler dutifully, and then they would be able to go to sleep after having seen their hardworking dad at the end of a long day.”
Sonny was also a shrewd businessman. Bill Miller recalled that he used to visit other restaurants to check out their menus and service. When younger people began leaving Miller’s for fast-food restaurants, he once said, “I think no one under 30 has a palate. But if you ever quote me on that, I’ll deny I said it.”
Bill Miller stressed Sonny’s generous philanthropies and mentioned the Bangor Public Library, suggesting: “If you wanted to leave a million dollars to the library in his name, that would be a good thing to do.” As an alternative, he said each of the 300 people present might give the library a book or two.
For many years, Miller’s restaurant was the place to go to, for Bangor residents, for other Mainers, and for people from away, including candidates, their crews, and visiting newspaper reporters in every election year. And Sonny was always there, always with a good story to tell or an honest question to ask and a ready ear to listen to what others had to say.