May 17, 2022

Rich Archbold: Legendary lifeguard chief Dick Miller mugged on his front porch; thieves get his sentimental watch

View Original Notice ? Rich Archbold: Legendary lifeguard chief Dick Miller mugged on his front porch; thieves get his sentimental watch

Dick Miller, a legendary Long Beach chief lifeguard, had just played a great round of golf and driven to his home, which was just a few blocks away from the golf course, in Alamitos Heights on the city’s eastside.

He was relaxing in a chair on the front porch of his home earlier this month, enjoying some sun and taking off his shoes. His wife, Melva, former president of the Assistance League of Long Beach, “doesn’t like me wearing shoes in the house,” Miller said.

Suddenly, he felt someone’s arms on his shoulders.

“At first, I thought it was one of my grandsons surprising me with a hug,” Miller told me last week.

Only it wasn’t one of Miller’s grandsons. It was two robbers trying to steal, by force, Miller’s expensive Rolex wristwatch, a gift he received when he retired as lifeguard boss 38 years ago, and two rings — one of which was his wedding band. Miller had worn that ring for the past 66 years.

“They were trying to pull my watch off my left wrist and the rings off my left hand,” Miller said. “One had his hand over my mouth. The other one yelled, ‘Get the watch.’”

Miller said he thinks the robbers targeted him at the nine-hole golf course, 5000 E. 7th St., known as Little Rec, which is directly across the street from its sister course, Rec Park 18.

“When I was leaving, I noticed a car next to mine with two men, one standing outside the car, the other in the passenger seat inside,” Miller said. “They weren’t wearing golf clothes.”

Security cameras had been placed by neighbors in the area, Miller said, and they showed his car being followed by another vehicle.

He described the car as “like a small, blue Toyota or Honda.”

“I was able to fight them off for a while, but, eventually, they knocked me down,” Miller said. “It took two young men to take down an 88-year-old man.”

The men were wearing what Miller called COVID-19 masks.

Melva Miller, who was inside the house, heard her husband crying for help.

“I always worry when he drives,” she said later. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s fallen into the rose garden.”

But when she opened the front door and saw the two men attacking her husband, she immediately cried for help, scaring away the men, who ran to their car and drove off.

“I was shaking,” Melva Miller said, “but I had to do something to help Dick.”

Dick Miller expressed pride in his wife.

“Once again, Melva saved my life,” Miller said. “She’s been doing that all my life.”

  • Melva Miller came to the aide of her husband, Dick Miller during a robbery. (File Photo)

  • Dick Miller is a retired lifeguard, wearing his gifted retirement watch, has a long history with the organization in Long Beach. (File photo by Brittany Murray)

  • Dick Miller, in the hospital, shows the brusies on his left arm after he was robbed earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of the Miller family)

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The robbers got the watch but were unable to rip the rings off Miller’s fingers.

Miller praised the Long Beach Police Department for getting to his home, near the Colorado Lagoon, as quickly as they did. Miller also got a call from Long Beach Police Chief Wally Hebeish, he said.

Hebeish was not immediately available to comment.

“The chief said he was sorry the attack happened and that they were working to find who did this to me,” Miller said. “I appreciated the call.”

The watch and rings all have great sentimental value.

Miller got the wedding ring — a gold band — on June 25, 1955, when he and Melva married.

The other ring was a gift from his wife when he graduated from San Jose State University. The graduation ring was a little loose so he put it on his finger first and then put the gold band next to it on the same finger.

“I made a fist,” Miller said, “to make it more difficult to take the rings off.”

Miller’s fellow lifeguards gave him the watch when he retired as chief in 1975. It was engraved with “Chief Miller” and his retirement date.

“I wore that watch wherever I went, even to bed,” Miller told me. “The only time I didn’t wear it was when I went swimming.”

Capt. Scott Dixon, current lifeguard chief, said the community reaction to Miller’s mugging was overwhelming.

“Everyone first wanted to make sure the chief was OK,” Dixon said, “and then they wanted to know what they could to help.

Dixon started a GoFundMe account, with a goal of $10,000 to replace Miller’s watch. The account had raised $11,000 by Friday, April 22, Dixon said, so he closed the account.

“Chief Miller is more than a lifeguard chief,” Dixon said. “He is a pillar of our community, a grandfather, a father, friend and mentor. We will replace his stolen watch.”

Miller has deep roots in Long Beach.

He was born on July 2, 1933, at Seaside Hospital, now MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center. He grew up around water, so it just seemed natural for him to follow in the footsteps of two other lifeguard legends in Long Beach: his father, Vic, and his uncle Dutch. Eventually, Miller became chief lifeguard, serving in that post from 1974 to 1984, when he was appointed manager of city marinas.

Miller was also a high school history teacher, but he never strayed far from the water.

He was assistant water polo and swimming coach at Poly High for three years before going to Millikan High, where he was head coach for those two sports for 21 years.

While attending San Jose State, he fell in love with Melva Miller, who was going with a Stanford University swimmer at the time. In his typical, jovial way, he said that guy beat him in the finals, “but I got Melva.”

Fortunately, Miller is in good shape — he still swims three days a week at the Los Altos Y pool — and did not have any major wounds from the assault at his house. He was treated for bruises, cuts and abrasions at urgent care.

“There was a lot of blood,” he said.

Doctors told Miller to stay out of the water for a while. So instead, Miller said, he’s lifting weights and doing other fitness activities at the Los Altos Y until his cuts and abrasions heal.

Miller is also recovering from colon cancer. He had surgery earlier this year to remove a large tumor and lost almost 20 pounds.

Despite the colon cancer and the robbery, Miller has kept his sense of humor.

“The next time I play golf at Little Rec,” he said with a laugh, “I may need a police escort.”

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