Girl Friday did it all

Fifty years ago, Kathleen Miller was fresh out of high school and needed a job.

She had one for a few days but the person who previously had it wanted it back, so the company let Miller go. The unemployment office sent Miller on an interview with a lawyer, and she thought she might have a leg up on the job. It turned out she did, but not for the reason she thought.

Miller, now 68, thought she had a connection through someone she knew, but her real “in” with attorney John Sullivan, who embraces his Irish heritage, was her first name, “Kathleen.”

Sullivan, now retired and living at Garvey Manor Nursing Home in Hollidaysburg, smiled when he thought about his former secretary and why he hired her, agreeing her first name caught his attention.

On his door at Garvey Manor hangs a sign that bears the traditional Irish greeting, “Top of the Morning to You.”

“Besides that, she was very, very smart,” Sullivan said.

Miller and Sullivan worked together for almost 10 years before another lawyer, Neil Murchison of Tyrone, joined the office in 1972, Miller said.

During those years when it was just the two of them in the office, Miller said she would often pick up one of Sullivan’s seven children from school if the child was sick or she would take one to the doctor if it was needed, she said. Sullivan’s wife was a stay-at-home mother with little ones to care for and couldn’t get out easily, Miller said.

Miller said she was happy to help the Sullivans for several reasons.

“I was the designated driver,” she said, “and it got me out of the office occasionally.”

That kind of willingness to help, no matter what the type of assistance, is part of what has kept Miller in her job for 50 years, she said.

People in her office are always willing to help each other out, whether it’s to pitch in with a work assignment or pick up somebody’s kid at school, she said.

“Our office has always been like one big family,” said Miller, whose job title changed over the years to legal assistant. “Maybe it’s just that we’re more relaxed about doing those things and not worrying about whether it’s in your job description.”

Another reason Miller has enjoyed her time with the firm, which has grown to include eight lawyers and is now called the firm of Sullivan, Forr, Stokan, Huff & Kormanski, is that she became an estate paralegal.

Enrolling in the Penn State Altoona pilot program for paralegals in the 1970s, Miller became an estate paralegal because Sullivan handled a lot of estates.

“He was an excellent trainer,” said Miller, who also did the bookkeeping for the firm.

As an estate paralegal, Miller would meet with people after they had lost a loved one to discuss the will. The executor of the estate would also be present, said attorney Tom Forr.

Miller would be responsible for notifying the beneficiaries of the will to let them know what they would receive, he said.

When families are involved, things can get emotional, Forr said, but Miller was always very kind and patient.

“She is very knowledgeable, and she helped me a lot,” he said.

One thing everyone mentioned when Miller’s name came up were the holiday stockings she made for children.

Sullivan’s face lit up when he talked about the stockings Miller knitted for his children that he said lined the mantle and the bannister going up the stairs at Christmas.

“They were beautiful,” Sullivan said.

Forr remembered them too, saying she knitted them for people in the law office, whenever anyone had a baby or a grandchild.

Miller’s talents extend beyond knitting to quilting, which is how she plans to spend her retirement in West Virginia, near fellow quilters who share her passion.

She started going to quilting camps three times a year in West Virginia, she said.

Then several years ago, she and her husband, Roger, a veteran and retired computer salesman, bought land to someday build a house there.

It’s taken a little longer than they had thought to build their home but it should be ready by spring.

Once they move in, Miller will continue to make the quilts she creates for people like a breast cancer survivor and a soldier and his wife. The soldier was wounded in combat and is a member of the Wounded Warrior Project. The suggestion to make one for the couple came from Miller’s grandson, who is a Marine.

“These were special people in his life,” she said.

Miller said she doesn’t think she’ll have time for anything but quilting when she retires to West Virginia.

“If you saw my quilting room you would think by the amount of fabric I have that I wouldn’t have to look for another project for another 50 years,” she said.