Q&A with Dr. Robert Miller, Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association President

By: Brad Rowland

After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association will host the 133rd Rose Parade and 108th Rose Bowl Game on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. For more than 100 years, The Salvation Army has participated as a marching band in the parade, and the 2022 edition will feature the Florida Divisional Band as a core part of a 190-member group. In advance of the journey to California, Salvationist musicians and artists are preparing with rehearsals and coordination efforts, and on Saturday, Nov. 13 in Tampa, Dr. Robert B. Miller, Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association President, visited alongside his wife Barbara for a tour of The Salvation Army’s facilities and a chance to sit down with the band before they arrive. 

As part of that visit, Dr. Miller spoke extensively to the Southern Spirit and the Q&A can be found below.

Can you tell me about your background and what led you to your current role?

“Barb and I have been in the education field my whole career for the last 42 or 43 years. I retired in Dec. 2019 to become the president of the association for 2020. We all know what happened from there, so I’m a two-year president. Thankfully, we have a chance for the parade. Education has been a big part of our lives. I spent a large part of my career in community colleges as an administrator, and the last role was as the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Resource Development for Los Angeles, which is the largest community college district in the country with nine colleges and more than 250,000 students. Serving, particularly populations that need education, is a big part of my life. That applies to underrepresented, first-generation, low-income people who are struggling. The single greatest determiner of social and economic mobility is education, and I’ve been dedicated to providing quality education, particularly public education, my whole career.” 

How does that educational background apply to the “Dream, Believe, Achieve,” theme for this year’s Tournament of Roses?

“I think it really relates. I believe you can dream, you can believe and you can achieve, but you also need a quality education. What the parade this year centers on is education, and we’re also known as America’s New Year Celebration. This year, we’re going to celebrate healthy new beginnings. If it wasn’t for the science, the scientists, the first responders, the health care professionals, and all the essential workers, we wouldn’t be here today doing what we’re doing. I say that because it’s going to be very special this year, coming out of the darkness and into the light as a country and as a world.”

It seems that the educational theme of this year’s parade also fits well with what The Salvation Army is doing to equip people and provide educational opportunities. Does that align with what you’ve seen?

“I think exactly. It wasn’t until we got boots on the ground here that it really clicked to the extent that it did. I think it is easily recognizable that the Army’s educational mission and the goal to help people to achieve their dreams, believe in themselves and do things they never thought they could. That applies to whether it’s simply to get along through basic things or whether it is going to levels they never thought possible in their lives. Education can open so many doors. It’s the great equalizer. The theme speaks to celebrating education and it speaks to agencies that reach out to those less fortunate and help them to achieve their dreams. That clearly applies to The Salvation Army, and the Army also tries to make sure there is a level playing field for all people, and there is great synergy between the broad educational message and what the Army is all about. We should be trying to push back on the perception that The Salvation Army is just “the kettle people” as they march in our parade, and we want to help share that story, utilizing our content distribution partners, to convey that message.”

What should those marching expect and what should people watching at home expect on Jan. 1?

“When you march in this parade, you’ll be marching in front of more than 40 million people on television. And you can add another several million internationally. There is a lot of exposure for you and your families, but also for The Salvation Army. We’re going to try to work a little more closely to get the word out of the Army through our great broadcast partners. It’s a five and a half mile march, and I think the experience is always indelibly etched in minds in front of the busy streets in Pasadena. I guarantee there will be a lot of excitement. A lot of the educational messaging centers on music as well, and that fits with what you all are doing in raising up musicians and the ministry you have.”

What brought you to Tampa for this visit?

“This is the first time the association has actually visited The Salvation Army, at least that I’m aware of. What I hope we’re doing is starting a new tradition in that wherever the core of the band comes from will have the president visit that area to help to honor and celebrate the great work of the Army. We’ve been on a couple of incredible tours today, seeing the work that’s happening, and the Army is so much more than the kettle. We want to help spread the word about the Army and all that you’re doing.”

What does it say about the relationship between The Salvation Army and the Tournament of Roses that the partnership has continued now for more than 100 years?

“I think what it says is that you have two truly amazing service organizations who mutually utilize each other to forward their combined missions. In our case, it’s about bringing world-class entertainment and engagement, and helping people understand the importance of new beginnings. In the Army’s case, it’s really about using the parade as a means of communicating to millions of people that the Army is here and giving back, and that is something to be celebrated on a regular basis. I think The Salvation Army is one of the best-known and one of the biggest service organizations that we have in this country and around the world, and I think, as younger generations are coming up, we need to remind them of that. Young people need to know what’s behind The Salvation Army band as they march down the street in Pasadena. I think, as we look to the future and want to make sure this is here for another 100 or 200 years, the way to do that is to educate younger folks that are coming up. I can tell you this, as long as the Army wants to participate, we want them in our parade.”

I wanted to ask a bit more about your experience and, ultimately, what you’ve gleaned from this visit.

“I’m almost ashamed to say that, even with a long-term association with the Tournament of Roses and being almost a life-time resident of Pasadena, I was not aware, at least to the extent that I became aware today, of the difference and the impact the Army makes every single day. The mission of the Army is much more than kettle and what many people might see, but the Army lives its mission and puts action to words every single day. The visits that we made today to the Center of Hope and the ARC, to see the business model of the Army and also to hear directly from those who have been impacted by the Army in the way they have been, it’s been moving. The Army is there for people and this has really opened my eyes. This has truly been an eye-opening experience for us. I think it’s a message from God that we, as an association, needed to understand our relationship and partnership more. I can assure you all that I will be sharing the ministry of The Salvation Army with my colleagues.”

**Photo by Joel Massey