"Failure is not trying. If you try and it doesn’t work, that is not a failure. A failure is when you just put a brake on yourself. Any idea you have is worthy of merit and you should look into it."
Louise Miller is a tireless, passionate and committed advocate and community volunteer. She has helped to promote innovative research into spinal cord injuries and has offered inspired leadership to many organizations that improve the quality of life for Albertans with disabilities.
Louise Annette Hughson was born in Glasgow, Scotland and grew up on the Shetland Islands surrounded by a big family that included her mother, Kitty, three sisters and a brother. The rugged and remote setting offered Louise ample opportunities to burn off her great abundance of energy, although her natural exuberance often left her feeling somewhat at odds with the quiet and gentle pace of island life. It was an early indication of what would become a lifelong tendency that Louise describes as “always swimming against the tide.” From a young age, she exhibited a strong instinct to defend other children, or anyone she felt was being overlooked, and never shied away from speaking out when it was warranted.
Louise’s love of children inspired her to become a nurse. At the age of 17, she left home to study in Glasgow and then worked at hospitals in Glasgow, Aberdeen and London as a sick children’s nurse, public health nurse, midwife and general registered nurse. While working in London, Louise met and fell in love with a young man named John Miller who had recently left the Royal Navy. The couple was married in 1962 following a whirlwind romance and then welcomed a daughter, Tracy, in 1963. Over the next few years, Louise continued to nurse while John worked as a meat cutter. They also became intrigued by stories about Canada that were passed along by family and friends. John and Louise decided to experience the country for themselves and the young family moved to Alberta in 1965, settling first in Red Deer before making Edmonton their permanent home. Their son, Graeme, joined the family in 1968.
Louise balanced her role as mother with duties as a nursing instructor, supervisor and director of nursing. She nursed until 1974 and served for a time as chair of the Alberta Association of Registered Nurses in Edmonton. In 1978, Louise became the first female, non-politician to be elected to the Board of Directors of the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton. She served five years of her six-year term as vice chair of the board. During this period, Louise also indulged her great passion for learning with studies at the University of Alberta. She earned a diploma in Teaching and Supervision in 1967, a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing in 1972 and a Master of Business Administration degree in 1979.
Louise’s life underwent a dramatic change in April 1984. A serious bout with a rare virus left her with cardiac damage that demanded surgery. The surgery saved her life but also resulted in paraplegia. Louise spent the next six months in the hospital where she recovered and began adapting to the situation with the unfaltering love and support of John, Tracy and Graeme. Before too long, Louise Miller’s determination, feisty spirit and constant search for a better way to do things were being put to use in a newfound role as an advocate for people with disabilities.
In 1987, Louise embarked upon a project that stands among her greatest contributions to the province to date. She co-founded the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre Society and set out on an ambitious program to promote and financially support applied research in spinal cord injuries and the implementation of related state-of-the-art technology. Louise’s goal with the Society has always been to push for improved therapies that can make tangible and meaningful differences in the health and well being of Albertans with spinal cord injuries. She has taken a particular interest in Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES), a treatment which allows people with spinal cord injuries to stand, walk and exercise. Louise’s work with the Rehabilitation Neuroscience Group within the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry helped to spur the creation of an FES Exercise Clinic and Research Facility for the U of A. Louise and the Society have also promoted and supported the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital’s Spinal Cord Injury and Neurological Unit. Inspiring and promoting research into the prevention of deep pressure ulcers among people with paralysis has been another target of Louise’s unflagging efforts. She has been front and centre throughout the Society’s development, serving as its tireless president, its persuasive and positive-thinking ambassador and its central motivating force.
Over the years, Louise Miller has made other significant volunteer contributions. She co-chaired the City of Edmonton Custom Transportation Services Advisory Board and chaired the city’s Task Force on Persons with Physical Disabilities and the Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities. Her leadership on the last two initiatives resulted in a good number of improvements to the accessibly of city services and civic buildings. She also served on the Canadian Federation of Municipalities Task Force which authored a “how to” manual for member municipalities wishing to better serve the needs of Canadians with disabilities. Other contributions include her service as a member of the U of A Senate, a vice-chair of the Canadian Paraplegic Association for Alberta, a committee member for the Alberta Paraplegic Foundation, and a planning committee member for the Artspace Housing Co-operative Project in Edmonton.
In 2000, Louise co-wrote the bestselling book Daring to Live: Personal Journeys of Courage and Triumph, a collection of motivational stories about people with disabilities which has served to inspire countless readers. Throughout her work with the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre Society and other volunteer community service commitments, Louise has kept up a busy career as an instructor and public speaker. This includes her work as an instructor in Interpersonal Communication in Business for Certificate Programs in the U of A Faculty of Extension.
Louise Miller has received numerous honours for her volunteer service, including the ITV Woman of Vision Award, the Rotary Club of Edmonton Integrity Award, the U of A Alumni Award of Excellence, the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for Social Sciences, Social Services and Advocacy and the Canadian Rehabilitation Council for the Disabled Award for Exceptional Leadership and Personal Achievement. In 2000 Louise became a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2007 she was presented with the Alberta Medical Association Medal of Honour and received the Canadian Medical Association Medal of Honour the following year. She also holds the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Alberta Centennial Medal. The Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre Society has recognized her contributions with the Louise Miller Bursary, which is presented each year to a U of A graduating student with a disability. Louise humbly shares the credit for her achievements to date with her loving family and very supportive circle of friends and fellow volunteers.
The accomplishments of Louise Miller are proof positive that meaningful change can be created through courage, determination and the dogged pursuit of a vision for a better future. Her dedicated volunteer efforts have helped Albertans with disabilities to live healthier, fuller and more independent lives.