Enjoying his evening ritual of red wine and a fine cigar, he sat on the deck of the beach house, in deep reflection.
Born Tristen Gustav Miller, he was the third of five children of Frederick and Gretchen Miller. Known as Trey to close friends and family, he was the fifth generation of the Millerschmidt clan, owners of the multi-billion dollar Miller Industries. Started as a small Minnesota farm equipment company by Trey’s great, great-grandfather Gustav, Miller Industries was now a global holding company for numerous businesses spanning aerospace, automotive, steel, and finance.
Home was the 35-room mansion known as Hanoveria, located on a 150-acre estate in Westchester County, NY. He and his siblings, surrounded by loving parents and doting staff, enjoyed everything necessary or desired. But from an early age, unlike his two brothers and sisters, Trey was not enamored with the trappings of wealth. As he grew older and better understood his station in life, he even seemed to downplay them.
He enjoyed playing with the children of Hanoveria’s live-in staff rather than those of the Miller’s circle of ultra-wealthy friends. While attending Stockton, New York City’s premier elementary academy, he was curious about the material disparities he saw in the world as he was chauffeured throughout the city to school, sporting or cultural events, and weekends at the summer house in the Hamptons. Over time, he developed an inquisitive nature and keen sense of fairness, interested in the “why” of things, both from a social and scientific standpoint; his curiosity quickly evolved into questioning.
His years at Brockway, the elite boarding school that all male Millers had attended for more than 100 years, further diluted, rather than strengthened, his connection to wealth. Certainly the equal or better of his classmates with the moneyed surnames of Fitzgerald, Harriman, Chamberlain, and the like, Trey had no interest in associating with these blue bloods. He spent the majority of his time in his room or the library as reading became his closest friend. This passion was spurred by his growing appreciation for history and philosophy, enthusiastically taught by Professor Elliott Thompson, his favorite teacher. Each time he heard Professor Thompson, the subject came alive, as if nothing was as important or consequential to the state of world affairs as the topic at hand.
In his senior year, Trey decided he wanted to teach as well, but at the college level. There, he too could be enthusiastic and engaging while delving into deeper details and concepts, helping to shape the world view of his hopefully equally engaged students.
He wasn’t quite sure how he’d communicate this desire to his parents. After all, he, like his brothers and all Miller men who preceded them, were expected to enter the family enterprises in some manner, while the females were groomed for philanthropic endeavors and marriage. He would have to plan this announcement carefully.
While he was home for Christmas, Trey’s parents inquired about his continued lack of participation in the Brockway culture. They had always been aware of his modest tendencies and outlook, but had hoped that being away at Brockway, among other well-to-do’s, would eventually change things. Apparently it hadn’t. A typical and robust discussion ensued and ended, as always, unresolved.
Rocking the family boat was not solely limited to Trey. His Aunt Rachel, Frederick’s sister, had been the black sheep of her generation, though she preferred to be called a free spirit. Not following the Miller female traditions, she left Hanoveria at 18, getting caught up in all the issues of the societal-changing ‘60s. Demonstrating at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, occupying the Dean’s Office at Columbia, and being stoned at Woodstock were just a few entries on her lengthy bohemian resume. Eventually settling down in a Delaware beach house, she became a renowned children’s book illustrator.
During Rachel’s more subdued years, Trey’s family visited her each summer. Over the years, the guest list dwindled to just the children, and finally, to only Trey. Trey always enjoyed his visits to the seaside bungalow that overlooked the dunes. From his solo annual visits, Trey gained a life-long appreciation for jazz, art, yoga, and cannabis. Throughout Trey’s life, he was constantly reminded that he was “just like your Aunt Rachel.” He took this as a compliment.
The next morning, the entire Miller family gathered for breakfast. Feeling the pressure of the previous evening’s discussion, Trey decided to announce his intention to enter academia. Before he could begin, his father stood up to make his own announcement. He told everyone that he was making immediate arrangements for Trey and his older brother Reed to apprentice at the family’s German auto assembly plant while continuing their studies at the University of Heidelberg and its acclaimed secondary academy.
Reed, thrilled by this prospect, stood up and thanked his father profusely. Trey, initially stunned, regained his composure, jumped from his seat and vigorously protested. As his father was about to respond, Aunt Rachel stood up and simply said, “Freddie, why the hell don’t you let the boy do what he wants? Papa allowed me and I turned out okay.” Eyes rolled and chuckles could be heard around the table. After some initial, high decibel discussion, calm overcame all and Trey was told to follow his passion.
As Trey recalled that momentous Christmas 25 years ago, he could not help but smile. He shifted in Aunt Rachel’s favorite Adirondack, positioned to catch the full ocean view, and poured another glass of Merlot. Now a published scholar and tenured Ph.D. in World History at a small Catholic college in Pennsylvania, he was content in knowing that he had made only three concessions in his desire to forsake his life of wealth. He was enjoying another summer at his most cherished place, left to him by his aunt, with a fine cigar, and a good red wine.