Director, Media Relations, American Public Transportation Association,
Despite dreams of growing up to be an astronaut, an archeologist, a dancer, and at one time, an Olympic gold medalist for swimming the backstroke, Virginia Miller decided she wanted to be a social studies teacher, with a stretch goal to be a Congresswoman. She pursued her goal to be a teacher as a government major at Smith College before switching to a comparative religion major, to help her “figure out what life is.”
In her mid-twenties she got a position working for WGBH-TV, the top PBS station in the country at the time, known for producing such shows as NOVA and Julia Child’s cooking specials. It was here she was introduced to the communications industry, developing voiceover scripts, clips and other duties helping with show promotions.
Next she moved to New Hampshire, and in her first foray in the transportation industry, was hired as the public affairs manager for AAA New Hampshire. She was also the registered lobbyist for the association, representing 100,000 people. Having won every political battle that she fought, including a highway safety mandate restricting twin trailer access, Miller’s boss told her that she should work on campaigns.
Less than a decade later, she was hired as a paid staffer working on then-Gov. Bill Clinton’s New Hampshire primary campaign. She was charged with canvassing Nashua, the second-biggest city in the state, developing the campaign routes and finding volunteers. Her ingenuity shone through with the development of voter information packets, something the campaign hadn’t used before, as well as its first literature piece. She describes her time on the campaign as an amazing experience. Although exciting, it was grueling work.
“It really tests you and what you are made of and what your commitment is,” she says.
Her work on the campaign led to political appointment positions in the Department of Commerce, as public affairs director for a presidential public-private initiative that developed hybrid and fuel cell technologies — groundbreaking at the time — with the domestic automakers. In the fall of ’97, Miller moved to the Federal Highway Administration, where she sometimes worked as a traveling press secretary for Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater. She was charged with handling the press during Boston’s Big Dig scandal.
“This was one of the most challenging press assignments in my life,” Miller says.
In her current position as director of media relations for American Public Transportation Association (APTA), she is the lead person working with the media, where she not only responds to requests for information or interviews, she also pitches story ideas to the media. Miller works closely with all the media relation professionals at the transit systems. Another part of her job includes managing the APTA Awards, which honors top public transit individuals and organizations in North America as well as organizing the national Dump the Pump campaign, which she started. Miller is quite proud of her work on both of these projects and remembers fondly when an attendee once said the APTA Awards were like being at the “Oscars.”
Faced with numerous deadlines on a daily basis, Miller says her job is a juggling act at times. Despite these challenges, she finds it rewarding.
“I know that my work in placing national media stories has made a difference in advancing public transportation,” she says.
She is proud of her work building the media relations community within the transit industry, which was nonexistent when she first began at APTA. Reaching out to people one at a time, she started building relationships and connecting them with each other. “Now we have a great community of people who are helpful to each other, and knowing that I was instrumental in making this happen is especially rewarding.”
Outside of work, Miller enjoys traveling to ancient sites around the world.
“I was in Egypt a month before the revolution and saw the pyramids, the Sphinx and the Temple of Isis.”