Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Remembering Lila Bonner-Miller

After writing yesterday's entry, I continued to think of Lila Bonner-Miller. Thinking I might find a link to my Blog since I had tagged her name, I Googled her. WOW, was I in for a surprise!

Lila was born in 1899 and died in September 1996. There were many links to her name - alas, I did not see a link to Painting with Erin and Annie! But two were so interesting. I learned a few things and was reminded of many things I had forgotten. Bottom-line, she was a very accomplished and distinguished woman.

The first article in Pastoral Psychology, Volume 21, Number 5 / May, 1970, Titled Lila Bonner Miller, M.D. by Thomas H. McDill outlined her early education. Most notably, she was the first female to graduate the medical school at The University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.
Her internship was at the Cincinnati General Hospital, and this was followed by a residency in pediatrics. From this experience, she opened her office for general practice in Greenville, South Carolina, for one year. From that beginning, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to practice internal medicine in 1927. It was in Atlanta that she met the Reverend Doctor Patrick Dwight Miller, who was to become her husband in 1931. Her husband's career was also of unusual distinction.

In this same Journal was an article by Lila entitled The Mental Health of the Professional Man's Wife. The article is not available without a fee, but a preview opened with this quote which I thought was interesting!

"She needs to recognize that she has a choice: to be a little girl playing with toys or to grow
painfully into a woman who walks by the side of her husband as a team mate, that not competition but complementarity is the cue to her role."

The next information came from her death announcement in a Presbyterian publication. This is where I was reminded of the Lila I knew.

Lila Bonner Miller, 95, a physician, psychiatrist, educator and Presbyterian social activist, died Sept. 25 in Atlanta. After getting her medical degree from the University of Virginia in 1924, Miller practiced medicine until three years after her marriage to the Rev. Patrick D. Miller in 1931. Returning to Atlanta in 1949, she resumed her medical practice. Noticing that her patients had as many emotional problems as physical ones, she went to Emory University School of Medicine in 1960 at the age of 59 for a residency in psychiatry. Miller was especially concerned that mentally ill people were being released from hospitals and left homeless. As a result, she helped organize the Community Fellowship of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, a program for the homeless mentally ill.

I spent many hours outside of group with Lila feeding the homeless. I had completely forgotten! My friend Michael Morgan also participated in this. For the most part, these people were severely ill. After the mental hospitals closed, the patients were turned out to fend for themselves. It was scary but fascinating at the same time. No matter what happened, Lila was there and always kept us safe.

My second find is best summed up with an email I sent, and the reply as follows:
On Apr 21, 2009, at 8:19 AM, wrote:
Hi Fran,

My name is Beckie Saar Leone and I live in Jacksonville Beach, FL. Between 1978 and 1985, I attended Lila Bonner-Miller's art therapy in Atlanta. I loved her!

I am now looking into my own art beginnings and began to think of Lila. I googled her name and came across your article:

“Lila” a film by Fran Burst-Terranella Compelling, entertaining documentary portrait of 80-year old psychiatrist, great-grandmother and art therapy pioneer Lila Bonner-Miller. A rich award-winning exploration of aging, work, mental health and family.
from the website:

Could you tell me if there is a copy of this documentary available and what the cost would be. I'd be very interested in remembering Lila!
Thank you,


Hi Beckie - Great to hear from you. I am finally in the process of making LILA available on DVD - hope to have a good version ready by May 1. I would love for you to have one. I ask folks to send $30 for the DVD to help with costs of keeping the film in distribution for the past almost-30 years. Let me know if that is possible for you and please remind me about May 1 to work out details of getting a copy to you.
Thanks again. Fran
Fran Burst-Terranella
Burst Video/Film, Inc
Faculty - Digital Filmmaking & Video Production
The Art Institute of Atlanta

On May 1st, I will order this DVD Documentary.

My last memory of being with Lila is both fascinating and a little bit strange. One of our group members married a prominent Atlanta woman at Ebeneser Baptist Church of Downtown Atlanta. The Reverend Martin Luther King, I officiated and we met Coretta Scott King at the reception. We were the only (perhaps few) white faces in the crowd. Lila sat between us and took care of her 'chicks' as only Lila could do! It was a wonderful and memorable experience. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last. It was built upon deception on the part of our group member. I honestly hope the lovely young bride went on to a good marriage or life she so richly deserved.

ART? No, I didn't forget. I don't think I've EVER laughed harder or longer! Lila had invited in a person from the art world to look at the Art Therapy paintings. One of mine was on the board and he told them I had real potential - my picture was real ART!

The title of this picture was "Two lips and a balloon". On a white sheet of paper was a suspended balloon and a set of lips. Period... End...

I laughed all the way home, seriously, tears were streaming down my face and I was stomping on the floor, for about one hour. I just couldn't believe "Two lips and a balloon" could be ART. What do I know anyway?

Well, Lila, that is about it for now. I hope you're watching!



Anonymous said...

Hey Becky,
I just wanted to comment on your blog. I am Patrick McMaster, one of Lila's Grandchildren. I lived in Atlanta with her so I saw her every Sunday for Sunday Dinner. I also was regularly put to work prepping the food for Community Fellowship. It is probably no coincidence that I got into the restaurant business after college. Community Fellowship is an on going out reach service of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church(it now includes housing as well). You might enjoy one of the family stories about Lila starting the Community Fellowship program. Lila went before the session of the church to see if they would start a Sunday meal for the Homeless. The money quote was "I looked at this big fine church and thought to myself that we all ought to be damned if we wouldn't do anything about these homeless people." The session was a little taken aback when she shared her thoughts with them. The reply was "well would you run it then?" If you know Lila then you know she didn't back down from a challenge. There is a part of the movie where she shares her memory of this meeting.
Thanks for the memories!

Unknown said...

I also attended lila's art therapy program while doing an internship at Antioch college. I knew that she was a pioneer and feel blessed to have been with her.

Janet said...

Is it still possible to buy a copy of the DVD?