Bob Miller reflects on taking helm during Rose Parade’s most challenging times – Daily News

Bob Miller was 17 and his Barbara was 15, when their eyes met over the decorating of a Rose Parade float.

They were there with their church group, five decades or so after that day, Bob and Barbara would like to think it was a sign.

Miller ends his term as president and chairman of the board of the Tournament of Roses Association on Jan. 20, with his wife at his side.

For two years, he was the go-to guy for a Pasadena institution rooted in traditions and threatened by the uncertainties of a pandemic. One year, the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl didn’t happen at all.

But Miller, 935 volunteers, one Rose Queen and her court, as well as thousands of vendors and builders pulled off the 133rd Rose Parade and 108th Rose Bowl game in the face of a record surge in COVID-19 cases.

Miller said he has spent the days since responding to about 400 congratulatory texts, messages and social media posts.

“It was a labor of love and I believe with all my heart it is what our country needed,” he said. “The Rose Parade and game is known as America’s New Year’s celebration, and this year, it wasn’t just a new beginning, but a healthy new beginning. It was a much-needed gift.”

When he was appointed president of the Tournament of Roses on January 2020, Miller chose the theme, “Dream, Believe, Achieve,” little knowing the three exhortations would be challenged in the two years before the parade and game could return.

In a normal year, the tournament president has four main duties: select a theme, choose the bands, appoint a grand marshal and serve as an ambassador for the nonprofit around the country. Miller’s first year was consumed by the business and administrative functions of managing the association through unprecedented, pandemic-scarred times.

The parade arrived amid a winter surge that sent Los Angeles County’s new daily caseloads soaring to record levels, propelled by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Tournament and local public health and safety officials acknowledged the inherent risks of gathering for the parade and Rose Bowl game, but planners said they relied on a feasibility study by USC Keck School of Medicine and strictly aligned with the county’s public health safeguards.

In the end, crowds were visibly smaller than during a pre-pandemic year —but that was likely to be expected because parade officials, City Council members and public health experts warned high-risk residents to stay home (and urged folks who attended to make sure they were vaccinated and wearing facemasks).

“Public health and safety was our North Star, the health and safety of everyone from staff and volunteers to vendors and builders,” he said.

The decision to launch the Rose activities may have foreshadowed another such quandary on the horizon. On Thursday, on the heels of the announcement of 37,215 new COVID cases countywide, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, vowed to work with the NFL and SoFi Stadium officials to prevent the Inglewood’s Super Bowl from being moved away in February. “I feel really confident the event will happen here in L.A,” she said.

But Miller’s role entailed much more than the overriding public health issues.

His second significant task perhaps even more complex, was to minimize the events’ financial risk and loss.

In 2021, with the parade sidelined, Miller helped produce a TV special on the annual tradition. Though it couldn’t replace the parade, it kept the march’s legacy in the public eye on a Jan. 1 morning with no live floats, bands or royal court.

Miller also ramped up community engagement through the Better Together initiative. Volunteers helped distribute food and contributed to campaigns addressing inequities in tech and education.

Once the parade and game were back on, Miller spent the next several months fulfilling a president’s more traditional duties. He and Barbara visited every band on the parade lineup.

“From that moment, I was meeting people, making presentations, sharing that excitement with the bands,” he said. “We felt an obligation to make sure it happened, to show the strength resilience and perseverance of our community and our country while complying with the requirements for health and safety.”

Miller, a community college educator, administrator and consultant for 44 years, was working at Pasadena City College when he was nominated for membership in the association.

“From that first year (in 1984) I was hooked, from the community involvement aspect to the magic of providing something that entertained millions every year,” he said.

As the parade grew near, more twists and turns arrived as persistent rain drenched the Bandfest and Equestfest events. But the participants rolled on, as promised — “rain or shine.”

This culmination of Miller’s two-year term was no doubt New Year’s Day, a wonderful and surreal 24 hours, he said.

The sun shone, the bands marched, the floats dazzled, the horses trotted; the parade started and ended on time, like clockwork, without mishap. And the game was an entertaining, nail-biting cliffhanger.

“The biggest pinch-me moment was going down the parade route in the fire truck with my wife, our children and four grandchildren and my 91-year-old mother, seeing the enthusiasm of the hundreds of thousands of the crowd on Colorado Boulevard, it was pretty amazing,” Miller said. “The second pinch-me moment was presenting the Leishman Trophy to (Buckeyes) coach Ryan Day and the Ohio State football team. And everything in between. I could not have been happier with the way the parade and the game turned out.”

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