For the last quarter of a century, 2001 USATT Hall of Fame Inductee Tom Miller of Livermore, California has become progressively more and more involved in local, regional, national, and finally international table tennis.
First, Tom was an enthusiastic player--so much so that by 1981 he was President of his local Tri-Valley Club and going off to weekend tournaments. By 1985 he was the U.S. U-1800 Champion. In the 1990’s and on into the new millennium, two of his favorite official/player stops have been and still are the St. George, Utah Huntsman World Senior Games (where in ‘94 he earned two golds and a bronze), and the Meiklejohn National Senior’s, held annually at Laguna Hills, California. Also, in age-group competition, he took first in the 1996 Nevada Senior Olympics, and in ‘95 and ‘97 he won the California Senior Games.
But of course it’s for his peripatetic Umpire and Referee work that he’s best known. In the early 1980’s he was the helpful but typically unsung U.S. Open Control Desk Worker (10 years later his wife Marilyn would begin assuming that same role). Then, however, he quickly advanced to a string of starts as Chief Umpire at the U.S. Open and Closed--championing his own history when at Baltimore he umpired the 1990 Tournament of Champions U.S. Open final between the two great Swedish players Jan-Ove Waldner and Mikael Appelgren.
Afterwards, in addition to working the Majors, he was acquiring fame as a friendly if sometimes impish photographer of players and officials, occasionally coming up to surprise you with photos you didn’t know he’d taken, and maybe wished he hadn’t. Beginning in 1985, he began compiling his photo scrapbooks of U.S. Open Umpires—still lifes, as it were, of historic importance. He also officiated, particularly in the 1990’s, in many California tournaments (the annual one at Santa Clara celebrating the Vietnamese New Year, for example, being a must on his list). Eventually he’d be inducted into the California Hall of Fame--as Player, Umpire/Evaluator, and Referee.
It was in 1988 with his trip to Seoul--Tom was the first U.S. umpire to serve in the Olympics--that his desire to travel, to be part of the larger world of international table tennis began to take hold. In 1990 he took the first of his now 13 trips to Japan to umpire in the TSP World Team Cup matches. In 1992 he attended his first World Global Youth Championships in Tokyo and became good friends with his counterpart Japanese official Nobuyuki Shirakawa, the man responsible for bringing Japanese umpires to our U.S. Open. In 1993 at that same Youth tournament, he won the top Umpire Award. The esteem he receives in Japan may be seen in that, of the 13 times he’s gone to tournaments there, he’s umpired the Women’s Final twice, the Men’s Final (including the Grand Prix Ogimura Cup with Waldner) eight times.
Traveling is fun of course, and 65-year-old Tom, who, before retiring, worked as a meaurements engineer and manager of a standards lab at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, often made the most of it, sightseeing and picking up little bits of interesting information wherever he could. In 1991 in Chiba City, Japan, he visited the National Bureau of Standards and noted that in the field of pressure measurements the Japanese used similar equipment and procedures.
And speaking of pressure measurements, there was that time at the 1993 Indianapolis U.S. Open when Tom repeatedly faulted and carded a player from the Dominican Republic. Finally the offender, angered, snarled, “You ever come to my country I kill you!” That threat got Marilyn a lot more upset than Tom.
Many an umpire is called on at times to work overtime, and those who win Awards like Tom Miller are not exempt. At the 1995 Canadian National Championships in Montreal, for example, Tom umpired a total of 59 matches, at the ‘96 Alaska Arctic Winter Games 78 matches! And, again in Canada, at the ‘99 Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg, he and Dr. Michael Scott thought they had a deserved day off, but were so quickly pressed back into service they hadn’t even time to put on their uniforms.
Of course Tom often works out of uniform. And he certainly is a measurement man and one with standards. At the 2001 Closed, before any of the matches began, Tom, as is his custom, went round to all 75 tables and set the nets. Not something you want to do in a blazer and tie. Not something you want to do, period.
North America and Japan are but two of the global points Tom as umpire has raised a duteous hand to in greeting. He was at the 60th English Open in Cleveland County, England, saw the ‘93 World Championships in Gothenburg, officiated at the ‘96 European Championships in Bratislava, was out there on court 20-plus times during the South American Championships at Curacao (in, ohh, a hot and humid un-airconditioned gym), umped a Samsonov match in the Italian Open at Bolzano, was in Paris for the Pro Tour Final, and officiated at the Pan-Am Paralympics in Mexico City.
Most recently he’s been to far-flung places like Sydney, Australia for the 2000 Olympics; to Eindhoven, Netherlands and Osaka, Japan for the World Championships.
At Osaka, as the incredible Men’s Team semi’s between China and South Korea is winding down to its climactic 5th -match, deuce-in-the-5th ending between Liu Guozheng and Kim Taek Soo, Tom is watching in the wings with the North Korean Women’s Team prepatory to their title match with China that Tom will be umpiring after the conclusion of the Men’s semi’s.
Tom said that as he approvingly observed the enthusiastic reaction of these North Korean women to Kim Taek Soo’s play—their squeals and gasps, their animated jumps and gestures—he was suddenly aware that the North Korean coach had come up close to him and was whispering excitedly in his ear, “That’s our country out there!”
This, Tom told me, moved him more than anything he’d seen or heard at these Championships.
On into the new millennium Tom continued his table tennis travels. The 2000 and 2001 Pro Tour trail twice took him to Doha, Qatar, much in the news these days both for the taped “Oust the Infidels” messages Osama bin Laden had been broadcasting over Al-Jazeera TV there, and for the subsequent meeting in November, 2001 of the trade ministers representing 142 countries. At one point in Doha, Tom had the off-court, off-beat opportunity to have a dialogue with a local Prince and his racing camel.
After Tom had umpired the final of the 2001 Pro Tour U.S. Open between Liu Guozheng and Johnny Huang, the Terrorist attack canceled his September plans to go to Seoul and Kobe for the Korean and Japan Opens.
So, though Tom had seen his Japanese friend Shirakawa at the Hawaiian Senior Open earlier this year, he wouldn’t be seeing him in Kobe. Still, in this push-button age, if one wanted to say Hello and Congratulations, wherever he or she might be, well, it really was a small world. Back in 1996 at the Fort Lauderdale Open, Tom was chatting with a Chinese woman umpire named Ji Lan Liu. Four years later, as, back in China, Ji was watching live table tennis action from the Sidney Olympics, who’s flashed on the screen but the match umpire--Tom Miller! “I know him,” said Ji. Over to the phone she went, called former USATT Officials Chair Y.C. Lee. Y.C. relayed the warm greetings to Marilyn. Marilyn e-mailed Tom at his Olympic-residence dorm. And when Tom returned from the Games, he received Ji’s testament to his far-flung fame that same day.
So who says USTTA Umpires go unrecognized?
Tom, WE all recognize YOU. Welcome to our Hall of Fame.