Matt Gade, Deseret News
There are moments when Gail Miller pauses to look out the south window of her hillside mansion to find the grave of her first husband, who is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery at the foot of the steep hill that falls away from her back yard. She planned it this way, choosing his final resting place so she could see it and remember and think her thoughts.
Not that she needs to look down there to think about him. Like the rest of us, she sees Larry H. Miller's name and life’s work throughout the valley – the NBA arena, the NBA team, the car dealerships that line State Street, the racetrack, the theaters, the TV station, various buildings, a campus and more.
“Larry is just always there,” she says. “The Larry H. Miller brand is so evident in the community that it’s there everyday. You can’t not think about it, and for me it’s deeper because of the personal relationship. Everything that is said about Larry conjures a memory or a thought.”
Feb. 20 marked — can you believe it? — the fifth anniversary of her husband’s passing at the age of 64 from complications resulting from diabetes. Now 70, she spends much of her time carrying on her husband’s legacy, but she also has cut out her own life.
Gail remarried last June. Her husband is Kim Wilson, an affable, 66-year-old trial lawyer with Snow, Christensen and Martineau. They became acquainted as neighbors while enduring remarkably similar hardships. When Gail looks out the back window at her husband’s grave, Kim can stand beside her and see the grave of his late wife, Vickie, who died three years ago.
“You can see them both when we look out of our room, and we do,” he says. “And we reflect upon our companions, and we knew (the other’s companion) as well. We’re very conscious of our past companions.”
Their courtship, which lasted a year, is straight out of a Hallmark special (but more on that later). He describes his life with Gail as “wonderful.” They leave for work in the morning — he to his law firm and she to her meetings for the LHM businesses. Their evenings are filled with Jazz games, community events and family. Between them, they have nine children, 34 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“Gail and I go to work every day, then have this very incredible life of responsibilities, and then we have this delightful, ordinary life when we can get to it,” says Kim, who mentioned that on the way home the previous night they had stopped at a grocery store to buy milk and bread — with coupons.
When asked how she is doing five years down the road from all the tumult of her life with the frenetic Larry H. Miller, Gail says: “I’m very happy. I miss Larry. But it was a stressful life. There was a lot I gave up, but I don’t know if I would do things a lot differently. I have a lot of benefits from my life with him, and not just monetary.”
Larry, an intense, obsessively driven man with an artist’s temperament, was rarely home. He worked 90 hours a week most of his professional life to build an empire that began with 30 employees and one car dealership and grew into 90 businesses (42 dealerships) and 7,000 employees, doing $3.2 billion in annual sales. In the last years of his life, he created the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation. Eventually, the entire Miller fortune will be placed in the foundation, providing money to help people and organizations in the community.
Larry desperately wanted his businesses to continue after he was gone and for his fortune “to do good things” in perpetuity. With that in mind, he groomed his wife and children to take the reins. For years he held formal weekly meetings with his sons to teach them his values and business philosophy. After returning from work each day, usually after dark, he downloaded to Gail all that had transpired with the business that day, sometimes as he soaked in a hot tub. For his wife, it was like an MBA class.
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