I am very sad to share with you that that George Mills ’68 passed away unexpectedly Thursday evening. As many of you know, George devoted his entire career to Puget Sound, retiring just last fall from his role as associate vice president for university relations following decades of service at the helm of Puget Sound’s admission office. Puget Sound would not be what it is today without George.
Our hearts are with Nilmah ’69 and the rest of George’s family and loved ones, many of whom are fellow Loggers. I am especially grateful to one of those Loggers, faculty member and former provost Kris Bartanen, who served alongside George for many years and penned the following remembrance in his honor.
With deepest sympathy,
Isiaah President, Ph.D. | President
The Puget Sound skyline feels emptier as we mark the unexpected passing on Thursday, March 19, of George H. Mills Jr. ’68, M.S.'72.
Born in Boston while his father attended medical school, George’s family returned to the Big Island of Hawai`i where George grew up in Keaukaha and graduated from Punahou School at age 17. A young fisherman who loved the sea, George chose to come to college here because he was curious about the Puget Sound. He majored in biology and chemistry, and then became part of an ocean racing sailboat crew. In 1970, he rejoined Puget Sound as an admission counselor, then married Nilmah Gray ’69, M.Ed.'72, and completed a master’s degree in biology in 1972. President Phibbs saw his talents and named George director of academic advising, supported his completion of a Ph.D. from University of Washington in 1983 and, when the director of admission position opened, appointed him into that role. Forty-two classes of Loggers later (and well-earned promotions to dean of admission and vice president for enrollment along the way), George brought his strong knowledge and personal relationships to culminating success as associate vice president for university relations, the position from which he retired in fall 2019 . . . always a Logger!
George was a President’s Cabinet colleague to many Puget Sound leaders, including Presidents Emeriti Philip Phibbs, Susan Resneck Pierce, and Ronald Thomas and those of us fortunate enough to serve on their teams. Always meticulously prepared, fountain pen notes on yellow pad and weekly handouts of admission statistics or class profiles at the ready, George helped us understand not just the world of enrollment but the needs and concerns of the young people we are called to serve. An important mentor to all at the table, he pushed the big questions, challenging us to look at things from a different perspective and offering the valuable breadth of his experience to the issue at hand. Sometimes protective, just occasionally a little stubborn, George always put Puget Sound and Loggers as priority one.
In a wonderful 2012 feature story in Arches crafted by longtime editor Chuck Luce, President Phibbs praised George’s commitment to honesty in helping students and families make "the right fit" decisions about college. President Pierce commended George’s "well-deserved reputation as one of the smartest, most effective, and most admired admissions leaders in higher education." President Thomas credited George’s success to "his exquisite combination of knowledge, instinct, determination, imagination, good instruction, strategy, patience, and generosity." In September 2019, at one of many gatherings in celebration of George’s retirement, President Isiaah Crawford summarized that George’s "sage advice and wise counsel have helped shape this great university into what it is today. You have been a stalwart steward, keeping us honest about remaining true to what makes us uniquely Puget Sound."
George and Nilmah were always gracious hosts in their home, including to the admission team, prospective students and families, or alumni. When George spoke about his family, his pride in Tad, Grayson, and Liz was palpable. Generations of Puget Sound faculty and staff children have also known the kindness of George’s "right fit" conversations in answering questions about college search and college choice. The greater Tacoma community knows well the generosity of treasure and time that George and Nilmah have shared with their city.
The skyline feels emptier because, in the words of poet Edwin Markham, "there is a lonesome place against the sky.” It is as if the tallest among our campus’s stately and treasured Douglas firs has gone missing. And yet, we must hold in mind the companion image of George’s ongoing spirit in those distinctive locations in our Northwest forests where a mighty nurse log is supporting a whole segment of its ecosystem, other trees already strong and all the surrounding life thriving. Our lives are better, and nurtured, by all that George has done for us.
It is unfortunate that the 50th Annual Puget Sound lu`au scheduled for next month must be postponed; it would be an especially fitting time when a tribute of aloha might have been offered in George’s memory. I trust that in the coming days each of us who have known him will find a way to place at least a metaphorical lei around his shoulders.
There are few in our history who have done as much for and meant as much to Puget Sound as George H. Mills. The “H” is for Hi`ilani, which means "held in the arms of heaven." Aloha nui loa, George.
Professor and former Cabinet colleague