Tommy Miller: One of Houston’s Bravest…Paw Paws

Born and raised in Pasadena in 1954, Tommy started as a volunteer and progressed to full-time firefighter. From living with his wife and kids in Station #6, to retiring in June 2016 and fishing with his grandkids, his life so far has been a life well lived–and proof that behind every great man stands a great woman.

Tommy, center, with his wife, kids, and grandkids at the Pasadena firestation. Note Tommy’s name on the locker behind him.

HFM: Let’s start by you telling us a little about you and your family.

TM: I was born in Pasadena, as was my wife, Linda. We have two children. Chad is our oldest and is 33 years old. He lives in Pasadena with his son, Jamison. Our daughter Lauren is 31. She lives in League City with her husband, Joseph Holloway, and her three children, Addison, Luke and Bailey.

HFM: What drew you to become a firefighter?

TM: I was a volunteer for the Pasadena Fire Department for seven years and loved it, so I thought I would make a career of it. I was involved in the A&M fire school every year and met several Houston firefighters there. They talked about their jobs, and I realized that I wanted to do it not just as a volunteer, but as my career.

HFM: I understand you and your family lived for several years in a fire house.

TM: Up until approximately 10 years ago the Pasadena fire station had living facilities attached where a firefighter and his family were elected to live. The family was responsible for answering the “fire phone” and opening the doors to the station for the firefighters who would come when their pagers alerted them to a fire. We were elected to move into Station #6, which was located at Red Bluff and Kirby, in October 1984. We stayed in the fire house until October 1991. The older Chad and Lauren got, becoming more active in sports, school, dance, etc., the harder it was on us because we could never leave the fire station unless we had a “station sitter” to answer the fire phone. It was more difficult on Linda and the kids than it was for me, as she was usually the one that was home bound. One weekend I had gone to the deer lease, and Linda called me and announced, “I bought a house!” We all know that when momma ain’t happy nobody happy, so we moved out and toward a “normal” life. Living in the fire house provided a means for Linda to be a stay-home mom while our children were small, so we are very grateful for the experience and memories that were made while living there. And boy, were there some great memories!

HFM: I’m sure you have many stories of your days as a firefighter. Do you have one experience, in particular, that continues to impact you to this day?

TM: The one that sticks out the most, that I can talk about, was a fire in Pasadena the night before I was to begin the Houston Fire Department Academy. The Chief had pulled us out of the engulfed building, as there was no way we were going to win this one. I was standing near the door, pulling the hose out, when the roof caved in and blew me 20 feet into the parking lot and into the arms of a fellow firefighter. Had he not caught me, I feel sure I would not have been in any shape to start the academy the next day. Everyone knew how hard I had worked to get accepted into Houston, and in the blink of an eye it could have been an unfulfilled dream. As a Houston Firefighter, I was on the Hazardous Materials Team. Linda says I glow in the dark from all the chemicals I came in contact with, but don’t believe her. All the huge,Houston warehouse fires definitely made an impact on me. The fires were massive and hotter than imaginable.

HFM: Did having a wife and kids make it harder or easier to do your job?

TM: It didn’t make it harder, but it sure made me be a lot more careful. In my younger years there was no fire too big, but I soon learned that my wife and children needed me so I didn’t take the chances that I might have taken earlier.

HFM: I love to hear how couples met. Where and how did you and your wife meet?

TM: Linda and I were a blind date that was set up by her best friend, Judy Wells, and by my longtime friend David Ghormley. We met May 1980 and were married March 20,1981. I proposed to her while walking her cocker spaniel dog. Her first engagement ring was a beer tab. But of course that didn’t last long. I am not the most romantic kind of guy so I told her she could spend as much on her engagement ring as I had spent on a ATV that I had just purchased. She set out without me to purchase her ring. I told you I’m not real romantic .

HFM: What do you admire most about your wife?

TM: It’s hard being married to a fire fighter. The hours are unusual, and I had to miss a lot of birthdays, Christmases and Thanksgivings. But Linda always held the fort down when I was away. She loves her family more than anything. She has always taken care of me. She worries about other people more than she worries about herself.

HFM: What was your greatest challenge as a parent?

TM: The greatest challenge as a parent is balancing time. You want to provide your family with everything they want and need. To do that I was sometimes working two to three jobs, which didn’t leave much family time. Looking back I would sacrifice those material things for one more minute with my son and daughter.

HFM: How are you different as a grandfather than you were as a father?

TM: Anybody that knows me will tell you that I have mellowed with age, and I realize that what is most important and valuable is the time I can spend with each and every one of my loved ones. The mowing, washing the car, repairing the tractor can all wait if I have the opportunity to spend that moment with one of my grandbabies.

HFM: What’s your favorite way to spend time with your grandchildren?

TM: We love to go fishing on our pond. Jamison loves to ride the tractor. Addison loves to build fires in the fire pit and make S’mores. They all love to be outside. That is where we make most of our memories.

HFM: If we were to ask your grandkids, “What’s the biggest lesson Grandpa has taught you?” what would they say?

TM: My grandbabies are still young so I am sure most of the lessons will come later, but so far I have taught them that when they are with Paw Paw, we are going to have fun! I asked Luke, my 4 year-old grandson, what he has learned from Paw Paw, and he said, “how to drive the tractor straight and turn real fast.”