Inside Salk; Salk Insitute

An enduring friendship

Lucy Miller is living proof that Salk science can touch a life in multiple ways.


Lucy Miller and her Labradoodle, Muffin

The Salk Institute was little more than an abstraction to Lucy Miller when Salk researcher Ursula Bellugi contacted her in the early 1970s, seeking students who could help with her investigations into American Sign Language (ASL). Miller, a psychotherapist and expert in special education, was working as the student advisor in the Center on Deafness at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), and recommended several of the ablest students. Hearing-impaired herself, she became very interested in Bellugi's seminal work, which was exploring the neurological bases of ASL.

Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to Miller, around the same time, the Salk Institute also appeared on her parents' radar, and they became donors. Her father died in 1981, and in time, her mother developed Alzheimer's disease, passing away in 1993 after a long, slow decline. "By this time, I knew that Salk researchers were making groundbreaking discoveries about Alzheimer's," she says.

The following year, Miller, as trustee of her parents' trust, donated a significant property in their names to the Salk Institute. "When my parents died, I didn't know of their contribution history with Salk, but it was the one organization I felt was a worthy beneficiary of my inheritance," she says. The Institute celebrated the gift—and her parents—at a memorial luncheon that was attended by both Jonas Salk and Sir Francis Crick. Then, in 1996, Miller began to follow in her parents' footsteps, making annual President's Club contributions to Salk.

Today Miller, whose career has included positions as a rehabilitation counselor at the California State Department of Rehabilitation, assistant professor in the CSUN Department of Special Education and associate professor of special education at Pasadena City College, among others, is semi-retired and living in Hawaii, but the term semi-retirement is relative.

"I get to do what I love doing, although sometimes I overdo it when perhaps I should be slowing down," she admits. She serves in leadership positions on many boards, including the Disability and Communication Access Board for the State of Hawaii Department of Health and locally on the Mayor's Advisory Committee for Equal Access. She recently stepped down as the Kauai representative to the Hawaii Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, though remains active in a mentorship capacity. And as a frequent speaker in her various career fields, she gained confidence in public speaking through the Toastmasters organization and is still active with her local group.

She has also branched out in new directions. Two and a half years ago, after being involved in a serious pedestrian accident because she couldn't hear a car running a stop light, Miller acquired a Labradoodle puppy and with the aid of books and online discussion groups, trained her to be a hearing dog so she could alert her to environmental sounds for her own safety.

Somehow, despite her busy "semi-retirement," Miller finds the time to read all the Salk publications and stay abreast of the research taking place in its labs.

"What impresses me the most is its independence and the level of integrity it brings to biomedical research," she says, "and, as a result, the high level of people the Institute attracts who remain passionate about their creative pursuits."