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Harvey Watson Miller, former musician, state public welfare official, dies at 70

Miller, who had served as director of operations for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, died Oct. 9, 2020 of cancer.

Harvey Watson Miller
Harvey Watson MillerRead moreCourtesy the Miller Family

Harvey Watson Miller, 70, a former state public welfare official and accomplished musician who played with such artists as the Delfonics and Brenda and the Tabulations during the golden era of Philadelphia R&B, died Friday, Oct. 9, of cancer at his home in King of Prussia.

Mr. Miller played music professionally into his 30s, several years after he began working for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, now known as the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

His musical talent was recognized when he was barely 4 years old. He had been accompanying his older sister to her weekly piano lessons, and one day he sat down and began to play.

The teacher, Dorothy Shaw Weir, head of the music department at the Philadelphia High School for Girls, saw something special in him and took him on as her pupil.

As a director of operations in Philadelphia for the state Public Welfare Department, Mr. Miller managed seven district offices and retired after 34 years in 2005, his family said.

“He touched a lot of people’s lives through the work that he did,” said his daughter Tory Harris.

“He liked helping people, and he liked making a difference for people."

Harvey Watson Miller was born in 1950 in Philadelphia, the second of two children.

His mother, Consuelo Dale Miller, was a schoolteacher and owned a beauty salon. His father, Harold G. Miller, was a hearing examiner and the first Black district and regional director of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole.

The family moved to Bensalem Township when Mr. Miller was about 5 years old.

At Bensalem High School, Mr. Miller performed with the school’s award-winning orchestra and statewide chorus. While still in high school, he and his friends formed bands, such as the Malibus and Soul Machine, which played around the state.

In addition, he was a member of the football team, president of the NAACP Youth Council, and a Boy Scout who reached the Life rank, the second-highest below Eagle Scout, his family said.

He attended Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and received his bachelor’s degree in human service administration from Antioch University.

As a state public welfare official, Mr. Miller played an instrumental role in developing an automated system to improve the exchange of information between the Philadelphia County Assistance Office and the Philadelphia Family Courts, his wife, Alvania Johnson Miller, said.

Mr. Miller met his wife in 1983 while both worked for the agency. They were married for 35 years.

She did not know him during the years his band Plus Four played at the Uptown Theater on North Broad Street; she said she regretted never seeing him perform.

“He had a beautiful voice, and he sang a lot around the house,” Alvania Miller said. He loved jazz, rock, and classical music all his life.

Mr. Miller eventually found that keeping musician’s hours was incompatible with reporting to his state job at 9 a.m., she said.

“He was full of life and energy and he loved his family," Tory Harris said.

“He was very good about giving advice. No matter what was going on in my life, I could always go to him, and he had the perfect answer to get me through it.”

Mr. Miller was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Mu Omega Graduate Chapter.

In addition to spending time with family and friends, he enjoyed cars, traveling, and a good party.

His wife said Mr. Miller had a special passion for cars and auto racing. They traveled to Formula 1 races in Canada and woke up early to watch races televised from overseas.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Miller is survived by two other daughters, Heather Ram and Kristen Noelle Hatcher; six grandchildren; a sister; and several other relatives and friends.

Funeral services were Monday, Oct. 19.