OCEAN PARK — Mirth Nan Miller, 71, a beloved spouse, sister, aunt and friend, died peacefully at her home in Ocean Park, Wash., on May 21, 2020, with loved ones at her side.
Born March 8, 1949 in Portland, Oregon, she was a quintessential woman of the Pacific Northwest who carried in her heart an innate love of salmon, good coffee, wild mushrooms, old growth trees, and the light, sweet smell of the rain.
Though raised in the city, strong ties to her family’s Century Farm in Wamic, Oregon cultivated in her an early devotion to the land and its bounty, as well as an extreme value for hard work and equally hard play. An outdoors enthusiast from the start, Mirth spent a string of happy childhood days picking berries in the Willamette Valley, fishing for steelhead in the Columbia River, and digging Pacific razor clams on the Long Beach Peninsula.
At the age of 15, when her father died, she took a job as a switchboard operator at the Portland Telephone Company, working after school and on weekends to help support her family. That position paid her way through Portland State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1971, becoming the first college graduate in her family.
At 25, the throng of the city lost its appeal and Mirth turned to an early love — the sea — fishing commercially on salmon trollers out of Ilwaco, Wash., and Astoria, Oregon until the late 1970’s, when she accepted a shipboard science position aboard the RV Wecoma, the oceanographic research vessel operated by Oregon State University. Her early seafaring days brought adventures in the waters off Oregon, California, Peru, Ecuador and the islands of the Equatorial Pacific, where she participated in work that helped further an understanding of ocean currents, coastal upwelling, seasonal variations and the ocean’s response to El Niño.
That taste of travel sparked in her a new ambition, and in 1987, she combined her love for the ocean with her recently discovered passion for travel, food and culture, to begin a career with the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute, cooking aboard their research fleet. In the early 1990s she received a sabbatical to study at the Western Culinary Institute and returned to WHOI with a culinary arts degree, ready to accept the position of Chief Steward, becoming the first woman to hold that station in the Institute’s history. Over a 25-year career as a shipboard chef, Mirth sailed on the RV Atlantis, RV Oceanus, RV Atlantis II and, most predominantly, aboard RV Knorr, the ship that found Titanic. Her voyages took her across every ocean and to every continent on the globe, where her good humor and zest for life made her friends in every port.
True to her name, joy and laughter followed in her wake. She was generous and loyal—a friend through good times and bad. She could discuss politics or poetry, art or economics, world history or the best way to pan-fry an oyster. She loved Mozart, gardening, calligraphy, every dog she ever met, and swearing like a sailor. She could whip up a soufflé or rock a slow braise, but her favorite food combination was potato chips and ice-cold vodka.
Mirth was a childhood survivor of polio and at 38, was diagnosed with scleroderma, a rare auto-immune disease. Chronic pain and illness betrayed her body again and again but never, even once, broke her spirit. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, no services have been held. Her name and memory are enshrined on the Maritime Memorial in Astoria, Oregon and in the year since her death, her ashes have been released to fertile fields, verdant forests, backyard flowerbeds and all the oceans of the world. She was deeply loved and is dearly missed.