Steelers' goodwill resonates in book
Of his five books, the latest, “Heaven Sent, The Heather Miller Story,” was the hardest for Scott Brown to write. And painful. It can never be easy delving into the details and effects of a child's death.
“You really had to separate yourself from your emotions,” he said. “That was hard.”
In the end, however, Brown regarded the experience as positive and inspirational. This also is the central message he conveys.
“It's sort of heartwarming,” said Brown, a sports reporter for the Tribune-Review. “You hear and read about all the bad stuff, but there still are a lot of decent people out there as well.”
Heather Miller lived in Bedford County with her parents and older sister before losing a long and courageous battle with cancer, but not before enriching the world around her. The surrounding community pulled together in support. So did members of the Steelers organization.
Among the challenges he encountered, Brown had to reconstruct history. He never knew his subject, who died in January 2010. She was 11. He never witnessed her buoyant personality, her grace and courage and “Hershey-bar smile,” as her mother called it, nor the heartbreak. Brown was not present when Troy Polamalu delivered the autographed jersey he wore in the 2008 AFC title game and Casey Hampton gave Heather his helmet. And he wasn't there when Heather died.
But he had valuable resources, including the Steelers and, most of all, Heather's mother, Wendy Wissinger Miller, who found the will and her own form of courage to recount her daughter's story in excruciating detail.
“Wendy was so incredibly honest and open,” Brown said. “It was emotionally draining for her, but you wouldn't believe how open she was. I was asking her to re-live horrible, horrible things.”
The book originated with a story Brown wrote in the summer 2010 from an idea passed along by a Steelers employee, who conveyed Wendy Miller's frustration with the negative publicity about the off-field problems of Santonio Holmes and, especially, Ben Roethlisberger.
“She wanted to voice the Steelers that she knew,” Brown recounted. “The ones that helped in their greatest time of need.”
Brown compiled a mountain of information and realized he had material for a book. Wendy Miller agreed to cooperate at first, but after several meetings, “it just hit a wall,” Brown said. “She wasn't ready emotionally. She was still struggling with some things.”
In February 2012, Brown tried again. He met the Millers and “I don't know, something clicked that day,” he said. “She was in a better place, spiritually, emotionally. She was ready.”
With the project back on. Brown labored from February through August — “I didn't play much golf that summer,” he said — conducting dozens of interviews with friends, family, neighbors, hospital staff and Steelers. But mainly it was Wendy who made it work. “We formed a pretty strong trust,” he said.
A kindergarten teacher and former volleyball coach, Miller had written extensively during her daughter's illness on the CarePages website. She shared much of that material with Brown.
“The book served as the best catalyst for the healing process,” she said. “It was so therapeutic. Meeting with Scott and sitting in the room together, we had to, out of respect for Heather, lay it all out there. I think it helped us come to an acceptance of each other and our grieving process.”
Bob Cohn is a sports writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7810.