BOONE — At a celebration for his birthday on Feb. 17, local artist and entrepreneur Joe Miller was surprised to be presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor in North Carolina, at the Boone Golf Club.

Miller is a graduate of the UNC School of Pharmacy, former president of the N.C. Association of Pharmacists, recipient of the Bowl of Hygeia Award, which is awarded for exceptional community service of pharmacists to their communities, recipient of the Dolphin Medal from the American Watercolor Society and author of three books.

Miller is also a co-founder of Boone Drug Pharmacy.

Ray Russell, representative of Ashe and Watauga counties in the state’s General Assembly, presented the award to Miller, recounting a number of Miller’s accomplishments and awards beforehand.

“He established a global art supply business — Cheap Joe’s — in 1990. He established the Brushes for Vincent program, also in the ‘90s, to provide art supplies to low-income students, especially children, all over the world. Recipients include children’s hospitals, burn units, prisons, K-12 schools and others,” said Russell.

“Among the most prestigious awards conferred by the governor of North Carolina is the Order of the Long Leaf Pine,” Russell said, prompting a look of shock from Miller, who was standing to Russell’s side. “Since its creation in 1963, it has been awarded to persons for exemplary service to the state of North Carolina and their communities. This service must be above and beyond the call of duty, make a significant impact and strengthen North Carolina.”

Other recipients of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine include locals Hugh Morton and Doc Watson, Maya Angelou, Dale Earnhardt, Michael Jordan, Richard Petty, Randy Travis and others.

“And now today, all of those people will know that their award is even more prestigious because Joe Miller’s name is going to be added to the recipients of that award,” said Russell. “We know of no one in our community more deserving of this award than Joe Miller, and it is my special, distinct privilege to present the Order of the Long Leaf Pine to you tonight on behalf of Gov. Roy Cooper, a grateful state and a community that loves you and your family dearly.”

The gathered crowd of Miller’s friends, family and mentors cheered, many commenting that the award was “well overdue” to be presented to Miller.

In his comments following the presentation of the award, Miller said that he didn’t know about the award, and it was a “total surprise.”

Miller’s son, Joe, read a letter from Congresswoman Virgina Foxx, who was unavailable to attend the event due to scheduling conflicts.

“As you know, I’m a long-time admirer of the Miller family, and I was especially fond of your parents. Know that they are beaming with pride for you today,” Foxx said in her letter. “ ... We’ve worked together over the years and seen many changes occur in Watauga, not the least of which is the great business you’ve built in Cheap Joe’s. I remember the beginning, upstairs in Boone Drug, and I’m in awe of the success you’ve had. My hope is that the success will continue.”

Following the ceremony, Miller and the people that had gathered to honor and celebrate both his birthday and the presentation of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine enjoyed a dinner catered at the Fairway Cafe at the Boone Golf Club.

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