Patricia R. Miller
- Partners in Philanthropy (2016)
- Herman B Wells Visionary Award
- IU Foundation President's Medallion (2010)
- Distinguished Alumni Service Award (2003)
- B.S., 1960
BIOGRAPHYWhen Patricia Miller (BA '60), co-founder of Vera Bradley, visited Indiana University in the fall of her senior year in high school, she fell in-love with the university. Today, as one of Indiana's most successful entrepreneurs, Miller remains steadfast in her devotion and loyalty to her beloved alma mater as an outstanding supporter and advocate for Indiana University.
As a first-generation college student from a small rural town in Illinois, Miller feels grateful for the opportunities her IU education provided. "It was an important decision in my life to attend Indiana University and become a teacher," Miller explained. "It afforded me the education and gave me the self-confidence to succeed as an entrepreneur."
In 1982 Miller and her friend Barbara Bradley Baekgaard hatched their idea for their company, Vera Bradley, while on a vacation. Waiting in the Atlanta airport, they were struck by the lack of attractive travel bags for women. Shortly thereafter, they launched Vera Bradley with an investment of $250 each. Today, Vera Bradley is an internationally recognized brand with sales of $500 million. "To succeed, you need to think big," said Miller. "Be bold and audacious."
As the company grew, so did the number of employees, and most were women. When the co-founders' first sales representative, who was also Baekgaard's former college roommate, succumbed to breast cancer, Miller and her business partner channeled their grief and created a philanthropic mission for the company to find a cure for this deadly disease. Miller and Baekgaard, along with some of their close friends launched the Vera Bradley Classic, a classy golf and tennis tournament for women that quickly grew to be a must-attend event in Fort Wayne. In the beginning the proceeds went to the American Cancer Society. But, by 1998 they established the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer to channel Classic proceeds to Indiana University.
In a leap of faith and courage to support the fight against breast cancer, the foundation's board agreed to fund the Vera Bradley Chair, even though a $1.2 million commitment seemed almost unimaginable at the time. Today, the Vera Bradley Foundation has committed $35 million to breast cancer research at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center with $25.7 million fulfilled.
The Vera Bradley Foundation's phenomenal investment has capitulated breast cancer research at IU into the upper echelon of programs across the country and is making a tangible difference in the search for new treatment and cures. "I have come to know the researchers at IU," Miller said. "I have the utmost respect and confidence in their work."
Miller's commitment to IU extends beyond her exceptional involvement with the IU Simon Cancer Center. She served as director, and now honorary director of the IU Foundation, and was co-chair of the IUPUI Impact Campaign and chair of the School of Medicine's campaign, making key introductions that led to major gifts to the school. In addition, she's a member of the Jacobs School of Music dean's National Advisory Board, the Varsity Club, and is founding member of the Women's Philanthropy Council.
Giving back is a reoccurring theme in Miller's life. When former Governor Mitch Daniels was elected to office, Miller took a leave of absence from Vera Bradley in 2005 and served as the state's first-ever Secretary of Commerce and CEO of the newly created Indiana Economic Development Corporation. "I believe that we should all do something for our neighborhood or city or state," commented Miller. "It's important to be involved in a civic activity."
Miller retired from Vera Bradley in 2012. She and her husband Mike, also an IU alumnus, live in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and have three grown children.
"Pat has given generously to the university with her time, talent, and treasure," said IU School of Medicine Dean Jay Hess, M.D., Ph.D., M.H.S.A., "most remarkably through the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, but also in her leadership and involvement in all facets of IU. She is an outstanding ambassador to Indiana University."