Global Conversation with Leslie Anne Miller, Attorney and Community Leader, recipient of GPA’s 2021 Globy Award for Lifetime Achievement

By Sarah Sharp

At GPA’s upcoming annual luncheon on December 13th, Leslie Anne Miller will receive the 2021 Globy Award for Lifetime Achievement.  In the following interview, Miller provides us with insights into her remarkable career in the law and her commitment to civic and cultural involvement, as well as additional fascinating aspects of her life in the city which she has proudly called “home” for more than 40 years.  Her numerous past activities, which include 25 years as a litigator, and many significant “firsts,” among them the first woman to be named a partner in her law firm, the first woman to be elected President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the first woman to serve as General Counsel of the Commonwealth under Governor Ed Rendell, form the foundation for her comments.  Civic, cultural, and institutional leadership have also been major components of Miller’s career, including the Kimmel Center, Mount Holyoke College, the Philadelphia Flower Show, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Temple University Beasley School of Law and many others.

GPA’s Globy for Lifetime Achievement is among Miller’s many awards.  Other moments of recognition include her selection as a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Sandra Day O’Connor Award, Drexel University’s School of Medicine Woman One Award, the Philadelphia Business Journal’s Women of Distinction Award, inclusion in Temple University’s Fox School of Business Women’s Hall of Fame, and Mount Holyoke College’s Alumnae Medal of Honor, along with honorary degrees from Drexel University’s School of Law, Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Health Professionals, and Wilson College.  

As Miller continues her career and life in our region, no doubt she will further enrich our community, and remain a mentor and model for women who know of her and aspire to follow her example. 

Sarah Sharp: Since you were born in Harrisburg, you are a daughter of Pennsylvania.  You have dedicated your professional career and personal interests to many major matters affecting our state.  What have been Pennsylvania’s important issues and challenges during your lifetime?

Leslie Anne Miller: One of Pennsylvania’s primary challenges has been to retain its economic base and, in turn, its younger population. During my lifetime we have had an exodus of business and industry that has precipitated a slow but steady economic decline across the state. This loss has created difficulty in retaining many younger people who might otherwise make this state their home. We need to focus on ways to slow the exodus. 

A second major issue has been the lack of women in our elected offices. To date, Pennsylvania has never had either a female U.S. Senator or Governor. We have made some progress in Congress and our legislature, as well as in the federal and state courts. But we still have miles to go.

SS: You have been able to view the law, legal practice, and legal training from many different vantage points.  What all led up to your choosing the law as a career?  What is your perspective on these different areas of the law in our state, city, and county?  

LAM: My decision to pursue a legal career was influenced by two factors. First, and most importantly, my late father, a distinguished member of the bar until illness forced him to stop practicing at age 89. Second, my thought that a law degree would be a great asset for whatever path I chose to pursue – private practice or government service. What I didn’t realize, but have learned over the years, is how helpful   legal training has been during my service to various organizations. 

Pennsylvania has a robust legal community in all parts of the Commonwealth and, accordingly, a variety of career opportunities in both the private and public sectors. The profession has been enhanced by the influx of women who now number over 50 percent of the ranks.  Attorneys are major contributors to Pennsylvania’s economy and also active participants in the life of their communities. In so doing, they help to improve the quality of life for many. 

SS: You have also devoted your time to boards of many different cultural institutions across our city, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Flower Show, and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.  Why have you used your energy in this way?

LAM: From the outset of my legal career, I thought it essential to find outlets for service both within and outside the legal profession. Having had great role models in both my mother and father, I understood that giving back to the community was an obligation and an opportunity.

A significant amount of my time and energy has been devoted to arts and cultural organizations which seemed to have “found” me along the way. I have learned to understand the intrinsic value that these entities add to the life and economy of our city. I also know that the management of such institutions has become increasingly complex and often more challenging for their board members. But such challenges  also provide the opportunity for personal satisfaction. Despite the prevalence of arts and cultural institutions on the list of boards on which I have served, it is important to note that they are by no means the only outlets for my service. I have also been actively involved in numerous professional organizations, as well as educational and medical institutions – often at the leadership levels.

SS: In 2014, you and Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley wrote a book, “Start With a House, Finish with a Collection.”  Can you share some of your excitement about collecting art and artifacts and using them to understand American culture and society?

LAM: I grew up in central Pennsylvania in a family of collectors of American antiques and arts.

I learned from an early age how to appreciate the objects themselves and the responsibility of stewarding them for future generations. It was only natural that when my husband and I started to furnish our house,  we would take advantage of the opportunity to draw on the resources of the Delaware Valley.  After all, Philadelphia was a center of trade and furniture making early in the history of our country with a profound influence on arts, culture, and the creative economy that continues to this day. Our mission to fill a house grew into a passion for the process of collecting objects and caring for them.  In the process, we have learned much about the city and region in which we live and the richness of its past. We have also developed strong friendships with individuals who have helped us further our knowledge and understanding.  Our lives have been enriched by this shared love and my book was an effort to use our experience to inspire others to follow.

SS: This year, you are receiving GPA’s Globy Award for Lifetime Achievement to acknowledge and celebrate all that you have accomplished and given to our World Heritage City.  What is your perspective on receiving this award?  

LAM: This award is a source of great pride and inspiration for me.  I am proud to share the honor with a group of distinguished past recipients, past and present. I am also proud that my work might, in some small way, have improved the life of our great city – my adopted home.  I am inspired to continue these efforts for many more years. My “lifetime” is far from over!

SS: As a final question, how do you see Philadelphia as a global city?

LAM: I see Philadelphia as a global city for a variety of reasons. The list of our city’s world-class attributes is extensive. However, several features stand out: 

Its history. Since its founding, Philadelphia has been a center of trade, commerce, and independence. Philadelphia’s history lives on in a variety of landmarks and institutions that are a source of civic pride and a major attraction for visitors from around the world. 

Its physical characteristics. William Penn’s “Greene Countrie Towne” lives on in Fairmount Park. A vast number of public gardens adds to the horticultural richness of the area, while the Schuylkill River provides scenic beauty and countless recreational opportunities for everyone. 

Its world-class educational and medical institutions. These centers of learning, treatment, and research serve people from around the globe and are the region’s largest employer and contributor to the city’s economy. 

Its cultural institutions. Giants such as the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are part of a thriving network of over 400 cultural organizations which enrich the quality of life, attract increasingly diverse audiences from the region, and fuel the city’s economy. 

We have a city that is undeniably global and a model for the world. As we re-emerge from the pandemic, we will confront our problems head on while continuing to build on our strengths, as we have done through the years.