One of the best things about exploring history of the valley is the numerous colourful characters who have dedicated their time to making the valley what it is, and along the way have had a lot of fun.
Even after all these years, Dr. Miller is still humble about his role in health.
“God heals you, I just give you pills,” he says with a twinkle in his eye that has become so familiar with scores of patients he has seen over the years. It is also the same twinkle that people remember as a caveman, and of course, Santa Claus.
Dr. David Miller came to the valley in 1966, shortly after Drumheller Associated Physicians was born. He brought with him an impressive resume, which included service in the Royal Navy as well as the Auxiliary Fire Service and Home Guard during WWII. He studied at St. Mary’s Hospital, Medical School, University of London.
Some of his teachers included Professor Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin and Lord Moran, physician and biographer to Sir Winston Churchill.
He is not stingy with the knowledge he has collected over the years. A trip to see Dr. Miller often includes a lesson. For this reporter one of the lessons was on the origins of the word doctor, which was very fitting.
“Doctor is teacher. If I am not teaching, I am neglecting you,” he said. “But if you don’t bloody learn, I kick your butt.”
He moved his family into a home in Drumheller before taking residence on his farm near the golf course in 1968. By then, he was fully immersed in the community. By 1969, he was featured in a national Bank of Montreal calendar dressed as a caveman robbing the local branch.
He was also involved in the original ski club and was part of the Drumheller District Agricultural Society for 33 years.
Dr. Miller’s other legendary character was, of course, Santa Claus. One story he related to The Mail in 2003, when the David Thompson Health Authority honoured him, was when he was making a house call to a woman in the community. Her grandchildren came to the door, and Dr. Miller greeted them in his legendary fashion, “Hello, Sunshine”, and “Hello Bright Eyes.”
The astonished child turned around and bleated “That’s what Santa called us at Christmas!”
He hung up his Santa Claus uniform about half dozen years ago.
His professional tenure included serving as Chief of Staff. He was instrumental in bringing the Red Cross to Drumheller and has worked closely with Alcoholics Anonymous. He practiced in anesthesia, obstetrics, emergency and general practice.
The old adage of laughter being the best medicine is a theory he prescribes. He has looked straight through a number of young patients’ heads with his examination light, and is never short of an entertaining story.
“I tell people if they don’t laugh they are probably ill,” he says.
A few weeks ago, he recalls a patient visited him in a foul mood, and Dr. Miller was able to break the ice.
“What is there to laugh at?’ she said, and I said, ‘Buy yourself a mirror.’ She burst out laughing,” he said, “and without pills too.”
At 86, he continues to practice.
“If I had a million dollars from a lottery, I hope my partners would say, ‘Carry on in your office,’ because I do it for the fun of the thing. I could retire any time I want,” he says.
He says he loves the people he is involved with on a day-to-day basis. He also enjoys the mental challenge.
”If you want to have good skin on your hands, you use your hands plenty. If you want to keep your brain going, you keep using it. I think if I retire, I would become a little bit of an old cobweb,” he says.
As a doctor, he said it is important to continue to live up to expectations.
“We are utterly lucky. If we are treated as demigods we’d better work twice as hard to deserve it, you can’t take anything for granted
Dr. Miller feels lucky that he was able to spend his life in Drumheller.
“When the rest of the world has gone so crazy, in Toronto with the G20, in Vancouver after the NHL finals, how lucky we are to live in Alberta. It is reasonably sensible, it is reasonably safe and reasonably well behaved,” he said. “I have been lucky that Drumheller has treated me so well.”