Obituary: Elizabeth Spence Miller, newspaper owner

Born: 25 September, 1921, in Kirkwall, Orkney. Died: 31 March, 2013, in Kirkwall, aged 91

Elizabeth Miller, together with Evelyn Barron of the Inverness Courier, was a rare breed in the last century, the female owner of a local newspaper.

Mrs Miller owned The Orcadian for almost 40 years, steered the company through a crisis in 1972 and oversaw a steady increase in circulation of the Orkney Islands 

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It was on a bitter March Friday night in 1972 that a fire ripped through the printing works of The Orcadian and gutted the building, destroying much of the plant.

Fortunately, priceless files of the newspaper dating back to 1854 were saved by dance revellers returning home; they passed the volumes along in a human chain into a neighbouring bank that had been opened specifically to cope with the emergency.

The following morning it was obvious the business was in a perilous state but a “Dunkirk spirit” ensued and willing staff went across the Pentland Firth to the Caithness Courier offices to typeset the newspaper after normal working hours in heavy lead metal type. It was shipped back to Kirkwall and printed on the newspaper press which, after some remedial work, had survived the blaze and limped back into action.

Elizabeth Miller and her team got the paper out that week on time – an amazing feat – and continued to nurse the business back to life over a period of years through many tough times, with staff sometimes working in intolerable conditions.

Three years later a brand new print works was built on the footprint of the old building and the business had been saved.

Elizabeth Miller was the sixth generation of her family to run a newspaper and printing business in Orkney. At the tender age of 23 she took over the business from her parents, James and Louisa Mackintosh, and entered a business world totally dominated by men, from boardroom to factory floor. It was a formidable prospect for a young, single woman, who had intended to take up a career in social work after studying at Edinburgh University.

However, she abandoned that course when her parents both died suddenly at young ages.

She married a local businessman, Robert Miller, in 1949 and had two sons, Robert and James.

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In the early 1980s she started to slip into retirement after James joined the firm but she nevertheless took a keen interest in the new technology that was sweeping through the newspaper industry at that time.

She was a devout Christian, a quiet, popular and unassuming person who, nevertheless, had the determination to see things through when required.

A devout Christian, she died on Easter Sunday at her home in Kirkwall, aged 91.

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