ATLANTA - Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush shared a pew and a pulpit Tuesday at a Buckhead church, where hundreds of mourners remembered former Georgia Gov. and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller.
The funeral at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church was the second of three public services for Miller, who died Friday at the age of 86.
"Zell Millers just don't come along very often," said the Rev. Bill Britt at the opening of the service, with Carter, Clinton and Bush seated on the first pew near Miller's flag-draped casket.
Besides eulogies from three presidents, the church service was replete with hymns from Miller's Methodist faith and a eulogy from one of his grandsons, Bryan Miller.
Early Tuesday morning, ahead of the service, a procession took place from McDonald and Son Funeral Home in Cumming to the Governor's Mansion on West Paces Ferry Road. A private viewing was held in the Ballroom.
On Monday, a public memorial service was held in Young Harris at the college Miller taught at before changing courses and going into politics.
Following Tuesday's service in Buckhead, Miller will then lie in state at the Georgia Capitol Rotunda for the remainder of the day. The following day, March 28, Miller will be honored with an executive state funeral. Gov. Nathan Deal will preside over that service.
According to Miller's grandson, Bryan Miller, Zell Miller passed away peacefully at his home with family by his side.
“As his grandson, I learned more from Zell Miller both professionally and personally than from anyone else I have encountered," Miller said in a news release. "He was more than my grandfather. He was my dear friend and mentor. I cherish all the time we spent together. I will never forget the lessons he taught me, his witty sense of humor, or his contagious smile. Our family will miss him terribly.”
Miller was born on Feb. 24, 1932, in Young Harris, where he went on to serve as the mayor in the late 1950s. He also returned to Young Harris after his retirement from politics.
From 1961-1964, Miller served as a Georgia state senator. Then, he served as lieutenant governor of Georgia for 16 years from 1975-1991, a record in the state of Georgia.
Miller went on to become the 79th governor of Georgia, serving two terms from 1991-1999. It was during that time he created the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship, as well as Georgia's Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program. According to the Miller Institute Foundation, more than 1.8 million students have gone to college in Georgia on HOPE Scholarships.
In 2000, Miller went to Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Senate when he was appointed to complete the term of Paul Coverdell, who died in office.
A conservative Democrat, Miller found he had more in common with some of his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill. However, while he endorsed President George W. Bush for a second term, he said he never considered joining the Bush Administration.
In later years, Miller endorsed both Democrats and Republicans for state and national office, but his grandson said last fall that his bedrock party loyalty never wavered.
Recent years were spent with family in the north Georgia mountains, including his wife of more than 60 years, Shirley.
Following the news of Miller's passing, many political figures took to social media to offer condolences.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal released the following statement on Facebook:
"It is with a heavy heart that Sandra and I offer Shirley our deepest condolences on the passing of her devoted husband, Zell. Georgia has lost a favorite son and a true statesman, and I’ve lost a dear friend.
Zell’s legacy is unequaled and his accomplishments in public service are innumerable. Without question, our state and our people are better off because of him. But the mark Zell made in his private life—as a dutiful son, a loving husband, and a proud father and grandfather—are the ones of which I’m sure he was most proud.
I was honored to serve with him in the Senate and have cherished his counsel for decades. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and loved ones, of which he had many. May God bless him and keep him."