Thursday, November 10, 2016

Let Civility Begin With Me

(with apologies to the Peace song, I remember lessons better with music...)

   Let there be civility and let it begin with me.
   Let there be civility,  the words that are kind from me.
   With God as our Father, brothers all are we,
    let us walk with each other, in peace and harmony.
   Let me use civility, let this be the moment now.
   With every word I speak, let this be my solemn vow
   to speak with niceness, correct with niceness and be more pleasant please?
   Let there be civility
  and let it begin with me.

Here is background on the woman who wrote "Let There Be Peace On Earth":  Jill Miller

Jill Jackson Miller was born Evelyn Merchant on August 25, 1913 in Lawrence, Missouri. Her mother died when she was three, and her subsequent childhood was difficult and traumatic. By the age of twelve she had become a ward of the court and the foster child, along with her older sister, of Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Cowan.

Jill was the youngest of four children. She had twin brothers, one of whom, Cullie Merchant, became a teacher and principal in the Phoenix area. The other brother died as a child from an accident with fireworks. Jill's older sister, Eva Mae Merchant, lived most of her life in San Bernardino, California.

Jill attended high school at Northeast High in Kansas City, Missouri. After two years of junior college she moved to Hollywood to fulfill her dream of becoming an actress. She lived at the Studio Club, a well known home for young aspiring actresses that provided a haven for young women in a strange city.

Using the screen names of Jill Martin, Harley Wood and Harlene Wood, Jill starred in several westerns and a serial in the 1930s. In 1940 she married Felix Jackson, a German writer and director who had immigrated to California, and she ended her career in films at his request. They had two daughters and divorced in 1944.

My sister Harley and I have vivid memories of being glued to our black and white TV, with our neighborhood friends sometimes seated behind, shouting excitedly, "Here comes mommy!" as we watched her galloping on horseback to save the day in one of her heroine roles. Jill's only regret from those years was the film "Marihuana", a movie she felt had been a mistake. In those days, the film was considered "sensational". Today it seems quite preachy and tame.

After the divorce, Jill attempted suicide, and during her slow recovery she had experiences that led her to a strong belief in God and inspired her to write.

She began her writing career with magazine articles and children's stories. In 1946 Jill met the man who would become her second husband and the real love of her life, Sy (Seymour) Miller, a musician, composer and writer for Warner Brothers Music. They married in 1949, and Sy encouraged her to write songs with him. Together they formed Jan-Lee Music and wrote many songs together - Sy writing the music and Jill writing the lyrics. The song that they are most known for is "Let There Be Peace on Earth (and Let it Begin with Me)".

After writing "Let There Be Peace on Earth", the desire for world peace became a quest that filled much of Jill's life. Over the years, as the song spread around the globe, she was asked to give talks about the song and the power of each individual to help create peace. Jill was an inspiring speaker who believed that all of her varied experiences had contributed to her understanding. She was always ready to encourage people to keep searching for their meaning, their inspiration, their true beliefs, and to forgive themselves and others for mistakes made along the way. And Jill readily illustrated her thoughts with tales of her own misadventures, a quality which endeared her to many.

Sy and Jill's song about peace was performed and recorded by countless singers, and used by many groups and churches, including the United Nations. It won the Valley Forge Freedom Foundation's "George Washington Medal" and an award from The National Council of Christians and Jews.

Sy Miller passed away on August 17, 1971. Jill continued her work for peace until her death in Hawaii, where she passed away peacefully in her own home in April, 1995.

Jan Tache
October, 2009

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