The Gardner-Miller-Morial Family
Edna Miller Gardner is like Hampton University’s towering Emancipation Oak. Her roots are deep and span the years; her branches are broad and strong, her leaves interconnect her family tree to ours, and her presence is undeniable. Edna Gardner and her extended family are truly a living tribute to
Edna Miller planted her Hampton roots in August 1942, when she arrived on Hampton Institute’s campus, full of joy and expectation that this would be the best experience of her life. She matriculated during a time of strict curfews and dorm mother oversight, mandatory chapel and quiet vesper time on Sunday, dress codes, and lady-like conduct. She studied business education during the day, but is known for saying that at night she’d “danced every dance and attended every party, every concert and every cultural activity.” World War II was underway and the Navy sent the Black seamen to Hampton and the ladies were asked to help entertain the troops. They danced, made friends and wrote letters encouraging our troops as they headed out to war. Edna’s joy was so exuberant that every friend and relative, including her brother Ross, visited her to experience the warmth and beauty of her new home by the sea. A lifetime of friendships and memories were imprinted on her heart.
Edna graduated in June 1946. She and her friend, Thelma Lee Johnson, were hired for the summer as business teachers for the Booker T. Washington Business College in Birmingham, Alabama. It was owned and run by Dr. A.G. Gaston and his wife Minnie Gadner Gaston. Ms. Gaston sent her brother, Thomas Gardner, to pick up the new teachers from the train station. The rest is history. Thomas and Edna married in
December of 1947, and began a family the next year.
Edna taught business and requited to the business college for 20 years, helping to train young Black servicemen and women to fill professional job openings up in post- war World War II America. She furthered her career as a business instructor at Lawson State Community College for another 20 years. As soon as the doors of desegregation pushed open, Edna was one of the first to enter and received a Masters degree in Business Education and recognized as a Pioneer of Desegregation by the University
of Alabama during their 40 and 50 year commemorative ceremonies. She also later completed graduate studies at New York University. As her children grew and were ready for college, Hampton Institute was always on the docket. She pushed them all toward the James River. All five of her children attended Hampton, and at one point, there were three Gardner boys matriculating at the same time.
Edna Garner’s eldest son, Thomas Gardner, Jr. is now retired and a prolific writer and poet. Her second son, Ross Gardner, M. D., graduated from Hampton and Meharry Medical College. He completed his residency and training in ENT and Plastic Reconstructive Surgery in Los Angeles and is now the owner and director of the Gardner Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama. Her third son, Eric Gardner, graduated from Hampton and is now co-owner and COO of Smith and Gaston Funeral Services, in Birmingham, Alabama. Her fourth son, Paul Gardner, Sr. is also a Hampton graduate, finished Hampton and Duke University, and is now in the health services management field. And Edna’s grandson, Paul Gardner, Jr., a psychology major and math major is slated to graduate from Hampton in 2014!
In addition to her own children, Edna Gardner helped to raised her niece, Michelle Miller, who is now an award- winning correspondent at CBS News, and a member of the advisory board of Hampton University’s
Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications. Michelle’s work regularly appears on the “CBS
Evening News with Scott Pelley,” “CBS This Moring” and “CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.”
And like her “Aunt Edna” Gardner Michelle Miller has roots that are deep, and branches that are strong. Michelle and her husband, Marc Morial, are the parents of two young children. And Marc, who is currently president of the National Urban League, is one of the country’s most accomplished servants and leaders. He is a primary catalyst for an era of change – a transformation for the 100-year- old civil rights organization. He is redefining civil rights in the 21st century with renewed emphasis on closing the
economic gap between whites and Blacks, as well as the gap between rich and poor Americans. Also, Morial is the former Mayor of New Orleans. During his tenure, according to 2000 census data, violent crimes and murders dropped by 60 percent, the unemployment rate was cut in half, and the city’s property rate decreased. Having led the city’s 1999 renaissance, Morial left office with a 70 percent approval rating.
The Gardner, Miller and Morial Family – together are a living testament of dedication to the growth and development of the Black family in America. They are all a part of the rich, deep roots and broad strong branches that connect Edna Gardner to Hampton University.
Edna has enjoyed 68 years as a Hampton Alumna. Over the years, she has returned to her “Home by the Sea” for graduations, homecomings and reunions. She has served as a Hampton University
Ambassador, as a recruiter in the Southeast, and as Alumni Chapter President and representative in Birmingham, Alabama. She has served three young Gardners, and two young (Miller) Morials who might also “be coming through Hampton, she says.
Edna Gardner has returned to Hampton once again, as the most-deserving matriarch of
this year’s Honored Black Family.