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Mary 'Mitzi' Wilhelm Miller, 85, tennis club co-founder, wrote for News society pages

Nov. 11, 1933 — April 19, 2019

In the early 1950s, Mary "Mitzi" Wilhelm graduated from college with a degree in drama and dance. Anxious to make her mark on the stage, she moved to New York City, where she got her foot in the door as a tour guide at Rockefeller Center.

But that didn't please her father, Frederick C.S. Wilhelm Sr., a prosperous salesman for Bethlehem Steel.

He ordered her to return to Buffalo, her family said, and she did.

She was "an extremely gifted actress," said her daughter, Dale Devlin Miller, and although she was denied her Broadway dream, she threw herself into community theater and productions of the Junior League.

She co-founded the Amherst Clarence Women’s Tennis Club, which observed its 50th anniversary in 2018.

Mary "Mitzi" Baker Wilhelm Miller died April 19, 2019, at home in Richardson, Texas, where she moved several years ago to be near her daughter. She was 85.

Mrs. Miller was born in Buffalo to Frederick C.S. and Sue Baker Wilhelm. She grew up on West Delevan Avenue and then on Lincoln Parkway.

"She was a debutante, listed in the Social Register, and a fashionable and respected woman," her daughter said.

She graduated from Elmwood Franklin School and Buffalo Seminary, then studied drama and dance at Bennett Junior College in Millbrook.

She married Thomas A. Miller Jr. on May 20, 1961. The family lived in Clarence.

For several years, beginning in 1961, she worked as a reporter for The Buffalo News society pages – using the byline Mitzi Miller.

Mrs. Miller's father taught her to play tennis as a child.

"She was a very good tennis player and did play most of her life," her daughter said. She and her husband co-chaired many tournaments and programs at Park Country Club through the years.

In 1968, with her friend Nancy Naylon, Mrs. Miller founded the Amherst Clarence Women’s Tennis Club. It began when Mrs. Naylon and her husband, Dick, started talking tennis with the Millers at a concert, wrote News columnist Charlie Garfinkel.

"They discussed why there weren’t more women playing tennis," he wrote. "After many phone calls and talking to other players, 20 women from the Amherst Clarence area became the first group."

Garfinkel wrote: "It's estimated that more than 500 different women have played doubles at one time or another."

Mrs. Miller performed in many community theater productions, including the Grand Island Playhouse and Amherst Players.

A member of the Junior League, she acted in or directed several of the group's annual fundraising theater productions.

In 1969, Mrs. Miller played the lead in the Junior League musical revue, "Everybody's Gotta Be Someplace," staged in Kleinhans Music Hall.

In 1978, Mrs. Miller starred as the title character in "The Country Girl," staged by the Way Off Broadway Players of Clarence, and directed by Fred Keller.

After her daughter was born, Mrs. Miller encouraged her to participate in tennis, ice skating, swimming and diving. She made costumes for her daughter's dance school productions, wrote news releases for Clarence Junior and Senior High School plays and coached students in theater.

After her daughter left for college in 1980, Mrs. Miller was "at bit of a loss as to what to do," her daughter said. She worked the fine jewelry counter at Sibley's in the Eastern Hills Mall, then worked for Equifax, in a doctor's office and for Tim Hortons and McDonald's.

From "a childhood of material privilege," said her daughter, she became "the least pretentious and kindest person of service you could imagine."

Mrs. Miller and her husband separated amicably in 1984 and divorced in the 1990s, Thomas Miller said.

Mrs. Miller was involved with her church, Holy Cross Lutheran in Clarence, where she was a lay reader, choir member and soloist and committed volunteer.

Mrs. Miller was a member of the Clarence Contemporary Club and Welcome Wagon and served on the board of the PTA for Clarence schools.

In the 1980s, Mrs. Miller moved from Clarence to an apartment in Snyder. In early 2013, she moved to Texas.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. July 27 in Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 8900 Sheridan Drive, Clarence.

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