By Donna Cornelius
Several British kings and queens changed their names when they ascended to the throne. Victoria preferred her middle name to her first name, Alexandrina, and George VI, who started life as Albert, chose to be known by the same name as his popular father.
This year’s king of the Beaux Arts Krewe is Jim Miller. But this merry monarch intends to reign over the Feb. 21 ball using a title that’s much more fun – and one by which he’s best known to family members and friends.
“I’ll be King Popsi,” he said with a grin.
Miller isn’t sure how he came to be known as Popsi, but he knows the nickname was bestowed on him early in his life.
“It’s in my baby book,” he said. “My grandfather told me he remembered me being called that when I was 4 or 5 weeks old. But no one ever admitted to starting it.”
A queen, whose identity isn’t revealed until the event, six ladies-in-waiting and 28 princesses will be presented at the ball, which has a Mardi Gras theme this year. Miller was officially announced as Krewe King on Jan. 27, but he’s known about his royal status for a while.
“A group of friends took me to lunch last summer and asked if I’d serve as the 2020 king,” he said. “My answer was an enthusiastic, joyous, ‘Yes.’”
Benefiting Museum of Art
He’s excited about his important role at this year’s 53rd annual ball at Boutwell Auditorium for several reasons. One is that the festive affair has a charitable purpose as well as a social one: It raises money for the Birmingham Museum of Art.
“We’re not only showcasing these outstanding young women, we’re also doing something great for the Birmingham community by supporting the museum,” Miller said. “So it’s a win-win situation. We want the museum to be as good as it can possibly be. I’m a very strong supporter of the museum, which is one of the best in its class.”
Miller also has strong family ties to the Krewe, which began with his father-in-law, Dr. James J. Bushnell.
“He was one of the most passionate believers in Krewe,” Miller said. “He couldn’t wait to get his son and sons-in-law involved.”
Miller was Krewe captain in 1993 and was president of the organization in 1994. His wife, Kathy, to whom he’s been married for 45 years, was presented at a Krewe ball, as were the couple’s four daughters. Kate, Grace and JuJu were ladies-in-waiting, and Libba was queen of the Krewe in 2004.
Born in Mobile but a Mountain Brook resident beginning in third grade, Miller attended Mountain Brook Elementary School and Mountain Brook Junior High School before graduating from Shades Valley High School.
At the University of Alabama, he was a member of freshman honorary society Phi Eta Sigma, Omicron Delta Kappa and Jasons Society, and he was president of his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He was editor of Alabama’s Farrago, then the student magazine, and was elected to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.
Miller joined the U.S. Navy after graduating from Alabama. He was 21 years old when he was commissioned an ensign in 1971 and served on board the USS El Paso in a series of positions; the last one was as the ship’s navigator. Since there was no GPS in those days, Miller guided his ship across the Atlantic Ocean using a watch, a sextant and a nautical almanac.
Miller experienced another important event in his life in 1971. He and Kathy, also from Mountain Brook and then a student at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, had their first official date. They went to the Alabama-Auburn game at Legion Field.
“Thank goodness Alabama won the game,” Kathy said.
After his naval career, Miller attended the University of Alabama School of Law and graduated with honors as a member of the Order of the Coif. He joined Balch & Bingham, a Birmingham law firm, and specialized in litigation and nuclear energy.
He was elected general counsel of Southern Nuclear Operating Co. in 1994. In 1995, he spent the summer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a rigorous six-week course in nuclear reactor technology.
Next came several executive positions within Southern Co. at Alabama Power Co. and Georgia Power Co. The couple moved to Atlanta in 2004. They lived there until 2008, when they returned home to Mountain Brook. That year, Miller became chairman, president and chief operating officer of Southern Nuclear Operating Co.
After his retirement, Miller returned to Balch & Bingham, where he is of counsel. One of his roles is to offer help and advice to younger lawyers.
“And I don’t have a billable-hours requirement,” he said with a smile.
Miller was a municipal judge for the city of Mountain Brook for 14 years. He’s been active in organizations such as the Lakeshore Foundation, United Way, Boy Scouts of America and the Rotary Club of Birmingham. He’s a member of the Redstone Club, the Order of St. John and the Mountain Brook Club, of which he was president in 2012 and 2013. In his leisure time, he’s an enthusiastic golfer, fisherman and bird hunter.
He and Kathy love spending time with their 11 grandchildren, all of whom will be attending their royal grandfather at the Krewe Ball. Serving as pages will be Mary Alton Kenerly, Elizabeth Miller Kenerly and Patrick Brittain Kenerly, the children of Jim and Kathy’s daughter, Grace Miller Kenerly of Gulfport, Mississippi; Olivia Grace Short and Anna Partlow Short, whose mother is Kate Miller Short of Birmingham; James Harper Milam, Katherine Bushnell Milam and Granger Kennedy Milam, children of JuJu Miller Milam of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida; and Juliet deVilliers Alden, Elizabeth Cartwright Alden and Alice McNiel Alden, the daughters of Libba Miller Alden of Nashville, Tennessee.
Also among the pages are the Millers’ great-nieces, Juliet Hamilton Girvin and Margaret Bibb Girvin of Birmingham.
Miller’s dukes include Walter McFarland Beale Jr., James Joseph Bushnell Jr., Joshua Michael Girvin, Charles Kennedy Porter, Roland Thomas Short III, William Lee Thuston, Charles Lawrence Whatley and Turner Butler Williams.
While Miller is looking forward to presiding over the ball, which starts at 9 p.m., there’s one aspect of it that he’s a little worried about.
“I’m not a late-night guy,” he said. “But I’ll soldier on.”