Your Neighbor: Meet Mary ‘Mama Lou’ Miller
Published 12:05 am Thursday, February 16, 2023
By Mandy Haggerson
For the Clemmons Courier
Mary Lou Reavis Miller celebrated her 100th birthday on Feb. 12. As one of Clemmons’ longest residents, Miller, who is better known as Mama Lou, was surrounded by over 200 family and friends. Miller’s five children, 12 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren came from all over the country to attend and celebrate the momentous occasion. “It was very overwhelming to have so much love. It meant the world to me,” Miller said. Months of planning by Miller’s family culminated in what mattered most to her, being with her family and loved ones.
Miller grew up as the second oldest of five children in a farming family.
“Everything that we ate we raised on our farm. There were only three items (coffee, sugar and salt) that we needed to buy from the store that I would walk to every week carrying eggs to trade. My uncle owned the store that I walked to, and he would always tempt me to buy a piece of candy,” Miller said with a laugh. “I never wanted to spend any of my parents’ money so I never would buy it.”
Miller’s family farm had an extensive garden that grew strawberries, peaches, plums and many types of vegetables like corn. “We didn’t have a refrigerator back then so we would use the springs and creeks to preserve some items,” Miller said.
Aside from providing food for the family, Miller’s farm would sell their crops for profit. “Our primary crop was tobacco. We would sell other items like milk, butter and eggs, but tobacco was the main focus for helping provide for our family for things like clothing,” Miller said. Son Jeff believes this dedicated work ethic that his mother learned early on was exemplified often. “Mom is hardworking, self-sufficient and not afraid of adventure,” he said. “She and dad taught us a strong discipline for entrepreneurship. Mom is resilient, resourceful, determined and relentless.”
Another aspect of Miller’s life that had importance and value when she wasn’t helping tend to her family’s farm, was going to church every Sunday or regularly attending school. “Our church was located conveniently on the corner of our farm. We would take our buggy to church. However, for school I would walk a mile to get on the bus to attend,” Miller said.
“I never missed one day of school. I had the best teachers and can still remember all of their names. My classmates were often related to me or were neighbors.”
The importance of education was instilled in her at a young age. “My father’s sister Rebecca taught school for 52 years. She would come home every summer and help on the farm,” Miller said. Miller didn’t hesitate to attend college when given the opportunity. “I went to Lees McRae College and got my degree in education,” Miller said.
“She rode to college at the age of 17 on a Greyhound bus,” said Miller’s daughter, Judy.
Miller graduated from college at the age of 19.
“She is amazingly independent and accomplished,” Judy said.
After graduation Miller headed home, and reconnected with John K. Miller, “JK,” whom she had known from her childhood.
“We ran into each other, and he told me he wanted to marry me,” recalls Mary Lou of her future husband. Mary Lou and JK were married in June of 1943. “Our first child was born up in Washington, D.C., where we resided for a little under two years due to JK’s job in the Navy,” Miller said. “I still love Washington, D.C. from my time up there.”
Many of Miller’s children feel that her influence of travel was passed along to them. “She has always been bravely open to another adventure,” Judy said. “She took her newborn alone on a train to California, moved to South Dakota for a job, and traveled abroad and throughout the United States.”
Mary Lou and JK ultimately moved back to the Winston-Salem area to raise their expanding family. “I taught second grade and was taking care of our daughter too. I also helped with running the farm, including milking our 12 cows,” Miller said. Miller added four more children to their family during the next 12 years. Throughout that time Miller held several jobs outside of the home. “When the children were in school, I would sell real estate. I knew that I wanted them to all go to college like I had, so ensuring that we could afford to send them was a priority to me,” Miller said.
Miller’s children saw by example how hard she worked to help support her family.
Grandson Connor Croce says, “Mama Lou has always been a hard worker. She ran her own business until just the last few months. Our family has a number of entrepreneurs and small business owners. We learned the value of hard work from generations that came before us. While we may not own the same kinds of businesses, our family knows the value of hard work.” Echoing that sentiment, son John states, “Mom’s work ethic is her strongest asset. She has always run her own business.”
Even outside the home and professional setting, Miller demonstrated hard work by frequently being seen picking up litter accumulated on Ramada Drive or mowing her 23 acres. “Our parents taught us to live below our means and not to waste anything. These lessons have been invaluable,” Jill said. “She made the most of what was available to her with the help of our dad. “What a life,” exclaims daughter, Judy.
Reflecting on the years that Miller views has been a blessing, she hopes that her family “knows how much I love and appreciate them. I am very proud of my family,” Miller said. “The joy of seeing my kids and grandkids have children of their own and having good families has been the best part of seeing so many generations grow up.”
Mama Lou hopes that the next year holds lots more family time too. As son Jack remembers about his mother, “She always loves to sing the chorus lines to “Don’t Worry be Happy” and the “Candy Man Can.” Mama Lou will likely have many more chorus lines to hum to in the future that continue to uplift and inspire her family that wish her the happiest 100th birthday.