Charlie Miller was a lot of things.

He was a longtime lawyer who headed one of Maine’s largest law firms. He was a community leader and social justice advocate; a pillar of the Jewish community. He was a father, a husband, a brother.

He was, his family said, “a man of joy.”

Charles E. Miller, former CEO of Bernstein Shur Bernstein Shur photo

Miller died Friday after a brief illness, his family said. He was 75.

“Charlie was a larger-than-life figure, with a tremendous personal presence, a searching and seeking intelligence, and an incredibly generous spirit,” his family wrote in his obituary. “He spread happiness to his family and to everyone surrounding him.”

Miller was born on Sept. 25, 1947, in New Haven, Connecticut.


He headed to Maine for college and graduated from Colby College in 1969 and earned his master’s degree in education from the University of Maine in 1973.

After college, Miller spent a few years teaching English and coaching speech and debate. His passion and skill for debate were so strong that he decided to go to law school.

In 1979 he graduated from the University of Maine School of Law and began what would be his lifelong career.

Miller joined Bernstein Shur later that year and went on to serve as the firm’s managing partner, and then CEO from 2003 to 2013. He continued to practice real estate and business law until his death.

Charlie Miller loved being a lawyer – a fact this his wife and three children chorused in unison during an interview Tuesday.

His wife, Ellie Miller, said he would get up in the morning with an excitement to go to work that he almost couldn’t contain. Growing up, his children didn’t know that some people don’t like their jobs.


His legal work earned him many accolades, including a place on the 2021 Best Lawyers in America list, recognition from Chambers USA, Super Lawyers and the 2013 Top Rated Lawyer in Real Estate Law by the American Lawyer Media and Martindale-Hubbell.

Miller was an outstanding lawyer, relentless negotiator and legendary lease writer, said Joan Fortin, CEO of Bernstein Shur. And he did everything with decency.

Frequently the person on the other side of the courtroom, who had just lost, would later hire him.

He was committed to Bernstein Shur, where he worked for his entire legal career. He was a coach and a mentor for other lawyers and had a way of building people up, Fortin said.

Miller never did anything halfway. He loved being of service and helping his clients and he would not go home until he had returned every phone call, his daughter Elizabeth Cleek said. But at the same time, everyone in the office knew that if his kids called, they were to be put through, no matter what he was doing.

Miller also used his legal expertise for social justice advocacy. He volunteered with Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Friends of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, the Muskie Fund for Legal Justice and Hope Acts, a nonprofit dedicated to helping asylum seekers settle in Maine. In 2009, he and his wife were jointly awarded the Edmund S. Muskie “Access to Justice” award.


At Pine Tree Legal, he helped start the Muskie Fund for Legal Services and the Frank M. Coffin Family Law Fellowship and, along with his wife and Bill Knowles, lead Pine Tree’s endowment campaign.

It’s his work on the fellowship, which funds two full-time attorneys to take on some of Cumberland County’s most difficult and complicated family law cases, that Helen Meyer, Pine Tree’s development director, said has had and will continue to have the largest impact.

“Those are some of the hardest cases to refer our to pro bono attorneys,” Meyer said. “Without this program (the families) would have no way to access the court system. It’s been thriving because of Charlie’s very quiet, behind-the-scenes work every single year to collect donations.”


His legacy will live on in Maine’s legal community for decades, Meyer said.

But it wasn’t just his work. His positivity and kindness also will leave a mark.


“He was a special kind of inspiring to be around,” Meyer said. “He spread his positive energy everywhere. … He was such an amazing person, he made the people in his life want to be amazing too.”

Miller made everyone he met feel like the most important person in the room, Cleek said.

“He gave everyone his whole self, always,” she said.

“And there was so much to his whole self, which is what’s so incomprehensible,” Ellie Miller added.

Whether it was at work, at home, at the synagogue or out in the community, everyone felt like they were getting all of his energy, his decency, his smarts, said Jaimie Schwartz, a Bernstein Shur attorney who was mentored by Miller.

“He must have been able to create extra time that the rest of us don’t have,” he said.


Schwartz, Meyer, Fortin and Martin’s family all mentioned that if someone asked him how he was doing, Miller responded the same way – with a smile and an enthusiastic “I’m terrific.”

His community involvement and volunteer work extended beyond social justice to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the University of Maine School of Law, the American Bar Association, the Maine Bar Association and the Cumberland County Bar Association.

Miller also was deeply rooted in his faith.

He served as president of Temple Beth El and the Jewish Community Alliance, and was the vice chair of Southern Maine Hillel. He taught high school students at Hebrew school, and he also taught music to younger students at Temple Beth El.

His family said he embodied “tikkun olam,” a Hebrew term meaning “to repair the world,” and “tzedakah” which calls on believers to make the world a more fair and just place through both action and financial giving.



Among clients and colleagues, he was praised for his wise counsel, his intellect, charm, credibility and tenacity. Among friends and family, he was a devoted family man who was always quick with a smile, a story or a song.

It’s hard to pinpoint what he was most proud of, Ellie Miller said. There were so many things that he loved and enjoyed, and somehow he was able to make space for and hold onto them all.

He was proud of his marriage of almost 55 years and of how much the two of them loved each other. He loved his three children “beyond measure” and was proud that they too, had found good partners. His six grandchildren were the light of his life.

He was creating joy for them all the time,” Ellie Miller said. He’d join them drawing on placemats in restaurants, he’d play tic-tac-toe or piano. When his family looked through videos this week, hoping to hear his voice, he was almost always singing the ABCs or “The Wheels on the Bus.”

“He was a serious professional, with incredible skill … but he also had this alter ego of silliness and playfulness and fun,” his daughter Amanda Miller-Burg said.

She recalled morning car rides to school with singing and dancing, celebrating even the smallest accomplishment with a 7-Eleven Slurpee and turning a religious ritual that would traditionally lack fanfare up a few notches because “no fanfare doesn’t do for Charlie Miller.”

“He did everything with enthusiasm,” his son, Marc Miller said.

Schwartz, the Bernstein Shur attorney, said Miller exemplified what it was to live in the moment.

“And being in his moment was being bathed in sunshine and smarts and laughter and Cheshire Cat-like grin,” he said.

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