It came much sooner than any of them would have preferred, but family members of Larry H. Miller feel blessed to have experienced what they consider a "perfect" ending to his life.
Just over a week after learning his death was imminent due to an incurable and rare tissue-killing disease called "calciphylaxis," Miller, the 64-year-old Utah Jazz owner and business mogul who's battled a slew of type 2 diabetes-related illnesses since last summer, passed away Friday at 3:54 p.m. at his home in Salt Lake.
"He's just had a remarkable life," his wife, Gail Miller, said Friday night. "We are in awe of all that he's done ourselves. It's surreal to believe he really belonged to us."
Hours after being at his side at his death, his closest family members joined their mother to mourn, celebrate and honor his passing at a press conference in a packed room full of extended family, friends and media.
As a fitting tribute at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, tears were shed, laughs and memories were shared and — what might've brought the biggest smile to Larry H. Miller's face — his grandchildren played basketball and danced around laughing on the Jazz's practice court.
Greg Miller, the eldest son who was named CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies last summer while his dad battled complications from a heart attack and type 2 diabetes, said the family had "mixed emotions" about the death and the day.
On one hand, they were "very sad at his loss," Greg Miller said. At the same time, however, he said the family was comforted by "a strong sense of peace."
Miller shared a thought at the press conference that he told his family moments after his father, who last month had both legs amputated six inches below the knee, died in their company.
"I hope my death goes as smoothly and beautifully as his did," Greg Miller said. "He died at home in his bed, overlooking the city that he loved, surrounded by people that he loved and he gave it his all before he gave up the ghost."
The Millers found out over a week ago — when his amputation wounds were not healing — that he had a painful and fatal disease that deposits calcium in the blood vessels, blocking oxygen and destroying tissue. The disease spread up his legs, even reaching his fingers.
When doctors told him the news, Miller decided to spend his remaining time at home where he was able to individually bid farewell and share final moments with many of his family members, close friends and colleagues.
That time together helped Miller and the family come to grips with his inevitable death.
"We were grateful that we were part of his life and pleased that he was able to come to terms with his illness in his own mind before he passed," Gail Miller said. "He did everything he could to stay here, but it wasn't to be. But he went peacefully. He was prepared. We were prepared. We've had a wonderful week together."
His son, Steve, called it a "remarkable week for our family" and said it really set a soothing tone for his father's passing.
"We've spent a lot of time reminiscing and watching family videos around my father's bedside," he said. "It's just like everything else he's done. He's scripted it perfect and the outcome is as beautiful as it could be. He is in a better place and we are grateful for the time that we've had with him."
Larry H. Miller was the mastermind of a multi-business empire, which began with a Toyota car dealership in Murray on May 1, 1979 and blossomed over the years into his Group of Companies that included 80-plus ventures. The most notable, of course, being the Utah Jazz and the Delta Center-turned-EnergySolutions Arena, but his diverse businesses spanned from 39 automobile dealerships, to movie theaters, restaurants, the Miller Motorsports Park, the Salt Lake Bees along with multiple philanthropical organizations.
All the businesses won't be what his family remembers, though.
"I think he felt like the community was his to take care of, to do good things for," Gail Miller said. "He spent his life in making things better wherever he went. …
"The comfort," she added, "comes in knowing he was such a good man."
They'll also miss the "strength of his presence," Greg Miller said. They'll miss life lessons he taught, including as late as the day before he passed away when the newly appointed CEO said his father was "teaching and leading."22 comments on this story
Dr. Bill Dunson, the medical director of outpatient services at the Huntsman Cancer Institute who was Miller's primary physician since last summer, was also on the dais with the family.
"I don't think I've ever met a man that had such an incredible perspective on life and as able to push his limits like he did," Dunson said. "He had the most incredible health challenges over the last six months. I think a lot of that over the last 30 years of having diabetes built up until finally over the last six months the physical part of him just gave out. I don't think the mental or the spiritual part ever gave out on Larry Miller."