BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Community is mourning the passing of West Virginia’s longest-serving sheriff.
Sheriff Virgil Miller served the citizens of Upshur County from every facet of law enforcement before his sudden passing April 3, 2023. Miller was in the midst of his third stint as Upshur County Sheriff after being elected by county voters in 2020. He had previously served two eight-year posts as sheriff during a career in law enforcement that stretched back four decades.
Miller’s career began in Webster County, and he came to Upshur County in 1980, according to a previous My Buckhannon story. In addition to his role as sheriff, he served the county as a chief deputy, magistrate and chief of the Buckhannon Police Department.
Mike Coffman, the former chief deputy who recently took the oath of office after being appointed sheriff following Miller’s passing, said his former boss was a mentor and a friend to everyone he knew.
“Everybody looked up to him and respected his decisions,” Coffman told My Buckhannon. “I was blessed he was able to mentor me for two years. I felt like I had good grasp of law enforcement, but there are other areas of being sheriff — there’s lot more to the job than just law enforcement. For the last two years, he really helped me in those areas, and I can’t thank him enough for that.”
Coffman said Miller had a long and storied career, with several failed attempts to retire.
“He just could not stay home all day,” Coffman said. “He tried a couple of different times, and he just couldn’t do it. He loved what he was doing, he loved every day was here. It was worth it to him, and you could see it when you were around him; you could tell he truly loved what he was doing. I don’t think he ‘worked’ a day in his life.”
Coffman said Miller was constantly educating himself on the latest technologies and law enforcement practices, and the late sheriff encouraged continuing education throughout the department.
“He was the longest serving sheriff in West Virginia and worked at all these departments, but he was always willing to adapt with the times,” Coffman said. “A lot of times you see people get set in their ways, but not Virgil Miller. He adapted very well, and that’s one thing I think is imperative to this job because our equipment, our training, everything continues to change so much. He kept up with it, and I think that’s part of what made him a great sheriff.”
Miller was also a friend and an exuberant personality.
“Virgil was just full of wit, he had a great sense of humor,” Coffman said. “He mentored several law enforcement officers coming up through the ranks over the years, in many departments. New sheriffs coming in, even in different counties, would call Virgil for his advice and expertise.”
Coffman also noted Miller’s easy demeanor.
“He lit up the room when he walked in,” Coffman said. “Of course, he was so tall you couldn’t miss him, but he could break the ice so easily. We’re truly missing him every day. It’s tough going forward, but we’re moving forward and doing the best we can do. He would be proud; that’s what he would want, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory said he knew Miller throughout his life.
“I worked with him professionally my whole career and have nothing but fond memories of him,” Gregory said. “He was a great man and a tremendous personality. His personality preceded him into the room, and that’s how I always remember him — larger than life. He would really bring a smile to your face, and I enjoyed working with him.”
He attributed the close ties between the city police and sheriff’s department to their professional relationship, which began when Miller was chief of the city police department.
“When he became sheriff and I became chief, we kept the awesome relationship that we had here at the city, and it continued throughout his tenure,” Gregory said. “It really helped bring our two departments closer together.”
Gregory said he learned things from Miller he will carry with him throughout his career.
“He was chief of police here for three years, so I worked with him during that time, and there are lessons I still carry with me to this day — and I’m sure I will for the rest of my career,” Gregory said. “I cherish the time I spent with him, and I’m honored to have been able to know him and call him my friend.”
Upshur County Commission president Kristie Tenney said Miller’s presence will be missed throughout the county and the courthouse.
“It was an honor to work with Sheriff Miller, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family through this difficult time,” Tenney said. “Sheriff Miller exemplified the attributes of honesty, a caring heart, a sense of humor and a love for his family and community. He will be truly missed throughout the courthouse and the entire community.”
Upshur County Commissioner Sam Nolte said his thoughts were with Miller’s family.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the Miller family as they deal with the passing of Virgil,” Nolte said. “Virgil’s great personality and disposition made him a wonderful person to be around, both personally and professionally. He was truly one of a kind and will be missed.”