Grief

Reagan’s memorial service was held on May 11, 2019, at Congregation Emanu El, 1500 Sunset Boulevard, Houston, Texas. A recording of the complete memorial service may be found in this file.

Sketch by Patti Zwick

Wilson Miller

There are not any good words to talk about this.

He made me who I am. When I gave him cards for his birthday, I always drew a picture instead of writing, so speaking now seems insufficient. I wish I could draw him a picture.

I am so happy he was creative, there are pieces of him in drawings and music. He is in the houses he made, in the landscape of Houston. I feel lucky that he left materials like this behind, objects that he infused with care and dedication. I was looking at the mark of his hand on the drum of his banjo, this mark comes from hours and hours of playing. To see that mark connects me to his care.

He never closed. He never thought he was done growing. This I think is one of the most lasting things that he showed me. It is possible to grow always, it is always possible to get better. This is done through work and through love. He taught me that work and love, or maybe working with love, can get you what you really want. I have never known a man to live in such love.

When Pete Seeger died, my dad wrote a song for him. These were the last four lines in the song.

And when we sing turn, turn, turn
And the flowers have gone and come again
I know you're still with us
Another link in the chain.
Wilson Miller, May 11, 2019

Sam Miller

I would like to share with you my father’s values and lessons, things that he indirectly taught me by being the man that he was.

Better yourself every day.

Something that I always noticed about my dad, is that he was constantly improving himself in professional, social, and personal ways. Whether small or big, he made an attempt every single day to become better than he was the previous day. The Saturday before he passed, he sat me and Elliot down at the breakfast table and pulled out a piece of paper and pen and began drawing his “shape of the day” and asked us what we wanted to accomplish today. He did this very often and I used to resent this, but it is such a simple act that allows us to feel a sense of accomplishment even on days when we don’t want to do anything. Having a sense of self reflection and being honest with yourself in order to sharpen your edges and explore new possibilities for yourself as an individual is such an important thing.

Build your relationships from a foundation of love.

I know confidently that all my brothers and my mom all had very loving and happy relationships with my dad, as I’m sure all of you did. That is why he is so special and easy to connect with. If you knew my dad ever so slightly, you knew him deeply. When your relationships start with love and stem from that, everything else falls into place and there is no question about that. My dad had love for everyone and that is simply from caring, listening, and helping others around you.

Be comfortable in your own skin, at peace with yourself.

As simple as it seems to love yourself and know yourself, it can be incredibly hard. Change is good, like when my dad went from his baggy clothes to his more fashionable skinny pants and slim fit clothes, which was a needed move. However, internally, he knew who he was, what he stood for, and how he could best impact the world around him. He never had to worry about being someone else or wishing he was doing something else, he worked so hard and loved what he did in every way. As hard as it is to find your place in this world, it makes it that much easier when you know who you are and are comfortable with it, you can always change for the better at any time.

Share your talents with the world.

I firmly believe that everyone has something to share. Everyone is unique and talented in their own way, my dad understood that and treated each individual AS AN individual, saw them for who they were. My dad’s talents, just like all of ours, were not given, they were worked for and practiced every day. Whether it was his beautiful sketches, banjo music in church, or his diligently designed houses, he shared them, he found joy in that. He allowed and ever so gracefully encouraged people to witness his wonderful talents, not for any recognition or awards, although he got many of those. He did it to bring joy to others, to allow them into his creative world of genuine creations.

Be curious and explore your creativity.

My dad’s passion for his music, his sketches, his work, and his family never just stopped after the “job” was done. He was never content with just learning a song and playing it or only using his own ideas to draw inspiration for his designs. There are countless books at our house that range from the autobiography of Pete Seeger and other musicians to renaissance architecture, there is always more to learn than you think, and the practice of implementing these new ideas in different ways, makes your creations completely unique.  

Although the memories of my dad will help me remember him and mend my grieving, the lessons that I listed will help me shape my life with values of hard work, creativity, and love

May it be so.

Sam Miller, May 11, 2019

From the children of Covenant Church

Elliott Miller

This is a reading from Isaiah 58.

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. 
If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noon day. 
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
   and satisfy your needs in parched places,
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 

12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 

Elliott Miller, May 11, 2019

Sketch by Patti Zwick

Krista Kielty

A Note from Mom and Dad

You were concerned by the “fear of flubbing Fatherhood.”

Well, not by this example of Fatherhood. How we wish you could touch the affection from this afternoon’s gathering of friends. It’s a virtual “Mister Reagan’s Neighborhood” hour. Friends that you and dear Ann treasured with such genuine respect. Friends that were a big part of your lifestyle of curiosity and good humor.

Fatherhood by example.

The boys were watching. The boys know.

You did just fine, son. You did just fine.

A Note from your Sisters

The first day after I heard the news of Reagan’s death, I walked outside to a beautiful blue sky and the birds cheerfully singing and I wondered, “How could this be, haven’t they heard the news?”

My oldest friend is gone.

Gone.

No more mischievous pranks. No more long conversations about life. No more goofy laughs while watching Monty Python or Saturday Night Live. No more precious hugs from the tallest brother ever. No more spirited music from the banjo. No more beautiful sketches. No more a father for his sons. No more a husband for his wife. No more a brother for his sisters. No more a son for his parents

All this was gone in an instant.

That first day, trying to process the grief and loss was full of tears and anger and disbelief, and a deep aching hole in my heart opened up. My emotions were very dark and it was difficult to find a way forward. It was helpful that our family immediately pulled together, hosting simple meals and just being in the room together, telling stories, sharing memories, telling jokes, telling everyone that it was going to be ok–some time later it would be ok. We travelled down to Houston later in the week and shared more of these tears, hugs, laughs, and love–oh so much love!

I started to go back through old photos. They made me laugh and cry and what wonderful memories!  Scott and I were only about a year apart in age and were constant playmates.  We grew up in the country which can be a little isolated, but it forces you to be more imaginative in your adventures.  We spend time making muddy dams only to send a bucket full of water to break it down and flood the poor people in the village below or dressing up our cats or dogs in doll clothes and taking them for stroller rides.   As we got older our adventures were bigger and more athletic–Scott really wanted to learn how to play tennis–but he had three sisters with limited athletic talent.  My softball swing at the tennis ball limited the number of volleys. . . he would patiently fetch the balls that went over the fifteen-foot fence until he just plain had to give up.

During high school he was so busy: there was baseball, basketball, golf, theatrical plays, jazz band, marching band, and choir.  But this was the time when he showed how much he loved to learn. He was always studying something, teaching himself a new skill–the one I personally liked best was his cheesecake phase, best pumpkin cheesecake I have ever tasted! But there was also learning Italian (because he had a Fiat which was constantly broken and he needed to read the manual to learn how to fix it) or painting with watercolors or photography or how to properly twirl drumsticks while jamming with the jazz band on the drums.  He would spend hours listening to music and practicing on the drum set. He took a class in high school which solidified his path in life: drafting.  According to Mom, his instructor was really nitpicky in his review of Scott’s drawings. When they talked about this, Mom asked Scott the simple question, “Do you enjoy drawing?” and the answer was a resounding “Yes!”  “So if you like it then ignore ‘the petwoot,’ keep doing it!”  Good advice, Mom!

Reagan went on to study architecture at Iowa State University. Scott was Scott until he reached Iowa State and joined a fraternity where there was another Scott R. Miller.  Scott Robert and Scott Reagan –from that day on he became known by his middle name Reagan.  He really embraced every aspect of this learning opportunity. We were so lucky to overlap our time at ISU as our family was scattered across multiple states. Reagan went on to graduate school at Rice University and live in Houston, where he eventually met his lovely wife Ann.

There were so many wonderful family vacations spent with Reagan, Annie, and the boys.  They were faithful travelers back to their ancestral homes in the Midwest, and we were so blessed that they took these yearly adventures to share time with our family.  Most recently, Tulsa to see the boys play soccer, Galveston to celebrate Spring Break, last summer in St. Louis a Marner Reunion, and of course the annual Miller Reunion at Crooked Creek.  This tradition of reunion goes back decades and was how we were all introduced to Ann in Colorado. We knew immediately she was a perfect fit for the family and the Ying to Reagan’s Yang.

One of the most wonderful family trips we took was an adult trip in 2011.  Our cousin Andrew was getting married in Washington DC–what an awesome destination–and somehow the stars aligned, and it was just our core family: Mom, Dad, Lisa, Kim, Reagan and myself.  No kids, grandkids, husbands or wives.  When does that ever happen?  It was such a blessing to have that time together to reconnect and make new family memories. Andrew and Cortney were such gracious hosts, we truly felt pampered!  Of course with any good wedding there was a dance, and you have to know that Reagan would not pass up any opportunity to dance!  Of course I obliged because who else could keep up with that watusi twister demon?  I hope someone got it on tape, it would be worth every belly laughs to see him fling his long arms and legs in his own dancing style.  (On the other side of emotional spectrum, we took the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum while we were there which is pretty difficult to process – at one point I was just standing in front of the stacks of shoes silently crying and he came up and held my hand until I was ready to move on.  Always the caring soul, always looking out for others.)

Growing up, our family had a religious background which colored much of Reagan’s outlook on how to treat others and outlined what was important to focus on in life.  When Reagan and Ann began looking for a church they found their home at Covenant Church. Here, Reagan found another outlet for his talents, adding his voice and knowledge to the building renovation process and of course sharing his musical talents both solo and in groups.  So very thankful for this tight-knit community as they have been ever so gracious to all those impacted by the loss.

Reagan really was a lifetime learner, mastering a number of instruments and most recently, he was perfecting his sketching skills. A sketch is defined as a quick rendition of what we see.  He always had a talent for drawing and used this as a communication tool as an architect, but recently he was truly mastering the ability to capture a moment in time with pen and add the perfect watercolor splash to give it life. Perhaps the best thing that Reagan left us was a sketch, a sketch of how life should be lived. What is important to focus on. How we should treat others.

We hold out hope that someday our hearts will ache a little less and that we can honor his memory by being more like the person Reagan was: to be intentional in what you do and present in each moment.

As I look back to that first morning, I realize that I may have heard from Reagan that very morning: the warmth of the sun will always remind me of his calm loving presence, his joy in the beauty of the world that surrounds us.  He reached out with a simple bird song to remind us of the joy of music which is all around us.  He reached out to continue spreading the kindness and love of a simple kiss on your cheek.  He reaches out to listen to our tearful moments and gently leads us back to a place of happy memories to bring  comfort and peace to all he loved – and there are many.

With much love – Krista

Krista Kielty, May 11, 2019

From the children of Covenant Church

Stephen Fox

I knew Reagan as a student, a scholar, and an architect.

I was a member of Reagan’s faculty committee for the master’s thesis he wrote while he was a graduate student in architecture at Rice University in 1992-93. Reagan’s topic was the architecture of MacKie & Kamrath, the Houston architects who designed Temple Emanu El. Temple Emanu El is one of the most spiritually moving houses of worship in Houston. Rabbi Emeritus Roy Walter discerned what makes this room so compelling when he observed that it combines a powerful sense of spatial expansiveness—the way the roof slopes up as the floor slopes down and the walls splay out—with an equally powerful sense of spatial intimacy, produced by the convergence of the walls on the bema: a co-incidence of opposites.

Even as a student, Reagan was sensitive to the subtle qualities of material and space that could produce perceptions of transcendence.

It was (and still is) unusual for an architecture student to prefer doing a written thesis to a design thesis, and to focus on a historical subject. Re-reading Reagan’s thesis, I was struck by his mature, confident knowledge of design processes, building systems, and issues of professional administration. But clearly what impelled him to focus on Karl Kamrath and Fred MacKie was the combination of conviction and principle that guided Kamrath, enabling him to produce buildings that adhered with imagination and consistency to the precepts of Kamrath’s mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright. Reflecting on Reagan’s life, I can now see that documenting and analyzing the architecture of MacKie & Kamrath gave him, as a student, the opportunity to explore questions critical to him about how to conduct an architectural practice, not as a business but as an ethical pursuit.

Temple Emanu El. Used with permission.

Reagan started his practice in the mid 1990s after working for Jay Baker. In 2017 he and André de Jean recalibrated the firm to become Reagan André Architects. MacKie & Kamrath and Frank Lloyd Wright were not the direction in which Reagan chose to go as an architect, although his firm did win one of the four Good Brick Awards it received from Preservation Houston for rehabilitating and expanding Lynn and Ty Kelly’s house, originally designed by MacKie & Kamrath. Instead Reagan pursued an approach that might be described as modern classicism. A house that he and his partner completed in 2007 on Montrose Boulevard, across from the Museum of Fine Arts, demonstrates what makes Reagan’s architecture distinctive. From the street the house appears precise in its neoclassical proportions, but conventional. On entering, your expectations are turned upside down. In a stunning example of the coincidence of opposites, the house resonates with austerity. Coupled with spatial generosity and a profusion of daylight, you experience its austerity as emotionally transformative:  invigorating and cleansing rather than depravational.       

Reagan’s architecture reflects his persona: assured, thoughtful, self-effacing. Yet as with his houses, so with Reagan. You got to know that in addition to his geniality there was an underlying layer of discipline, determination, and purpose.  The focus of his architecture was not on personal aggrandizement but on the well-being of the people who inhabited his buildings and the communities where they were constructed.

As we mourn the loss of Reagan and his companions and commiserate with his family and colleagues, we can draw solace from the architecture of the place where we gather. Looking up, you sense how Karl Kamrath invoked transcendence: by bringing the sky into the house to bridge between the here-and-now and the hereafter and spatialize the dedication of this temple to Emanu El: God with us.                

Stephen Fox, May 11, 2019

Ann Christensen

I begin with an epigraph from Gaston Bachelard’s book, The Poetics of Space.

How concrete everything becomes 
in the world of the spirit when an object--
a mere door--can give images of
hesitation, temptation, desire,
security, welcome and respect.
If one were to give an account of all the doors
one has closed and opened,
of all the doors one would like to reopen,
one would have to tell the story
of one's entire life.

When Reagan and I were first courting–and it all happened so fast, from a Rice Design Alliance Gala in April 1995 to a courthouse wedding the very next spring to three babies in 1998, 2001 and 2003–Bachelard was one of the few books duplicated in our household merger. At the time, Reagan was working for Kurt Aichler and I was going up for tenure at UH. Along with The Poetics of Space, we also grooved on Heidegger’s concept dassein, which means something like “being in the world.” Habitation. Inhabiting. Cohabiting. (Once kids tumbled along, German philosophy and French theory gave way to Beatrix, then Harry, Potter.)

We had a mutual appreciation for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English country houses (through images and words only; we never traveled to England together). Reagan had studied their symmetry and elegance, while I came to know them through the literary genre of “the country house poem,” by such writers as Amelia Lanier and Ben Jonson, whose poem, “To Penshurst” is addressed to the estate itself as a way to praise the owner’s good taste: “Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show,” it begins. Jonson closes with a dig at the ostentation of other estates, which he calls mere “heaps.”

Now, Penshurst, they that will proportion thee
With other edifices, when they see
Those proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else,
May say their lords have built, but thy lord dwells.

Dwell — it’s such a fine and fitting word for today. Not only because Reagan designed residences and relished the architecture of this very space we inhabit now, but also the word has some nuances upon which I invite us to reflect.

Dwell means to abide or continue for a time, in a place, state, or condition. Shakespeare’s broke Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice asks his friend for a loan, swearing, “Ile rather dwell in my necessitie” than put him out (1.3. 154). (Of course, he’s lying). Reagan “continued for a time in this place and in the condition” of being human.

There’s the expression to dwell on: to spend time upon or linger over (something); to remain with the attention fixed on; also, to sustain (a note) in music. In the US, it is often meant dismissively as the opposite of moving on: “no need to dwell on it.”  Yet here we are dwelling on the particulars of Reagan’s life and our places in it, grateful, too, that he dwelled with and on us with keen attention.

Turns out, Dwell is also home magazine devoted to “modern living, home design ideas, inspiration, and advice.”

Dwelling also connected the people who died with Reagan:

  • The Kensingers “got” domesticity and valued the remodeling that Reagan worked on for them over a number of years. They also invited us to use their country house where Reagan + Wilson each left a sketch in the guest book.
  • Marc Tellepsen and his family hosted their company party in their home that was not quite finished, but a live band and a warm welcome made it feel lived in.
  • Mark Scioneaux once conspired with me to surprise Reagan with a backyard renovation of plantings and a replenished gravel supply. (Three children, two giant oak trees, and plenty of foot traffic are good problems to have, but not great for a lush lawn.) I was in that project as much for Mark’s bear hugs as for Reagan’s joy.

Back to my theme. Think of how poetry, fiction, theory, and all forms of visual art and music run over with images of dwelling–roofs (Hot Tin and otherwise), porches, attics, windows, doors, stairs. Artists concentrate on coming home, leaving home, building and moving. So “Astro-World” and “Telephone Road” evoke home for Houstonians; we have Eden and the Buddhist pure land, cradles, castles, cabins, boxcars. So many sacred stories concern variations on the words shelter, abode, dwelling, and refuge, which appear hundreds of times in the bible, for example.

And dwelling (the noun) means, of course, a place of residence or accommodation, a dwelling-place, habitation, abode. Reagan and his firm created dwellings; Reagan himself dwelled at home with us, and at soccer fields, job sites, song circles, sketching classes, family reunions, the Rice running track, AIA meetings, improv shows, art galleries, lectures, concerts, desks, and tables.

Finally, a definition that the Oxford English Dictionary labels obsolete but which surely is not, is embedded in that last word of Ben Jonson’s poem: “To continue in existence, to last, persist; to remain after others are taken and removed.” Surely this applies to our enduring love for Reagan and for all loved ones who have left the earth, just as their love persists for us.

May you dwell on that love and dwell in the presence of art, music, friends, nature–wherever you feel most at home. On behalf of our family, I thank you for coming today and for your care and friendship, especially during this sad, hard time.

Ann Christensen, May 11, 2019