As a boy, Nathan Miller lived in a modest street-level apartment on Beacon Hill and sold newspapers in downtown Boston and candy bars at Harvard football games.
As an adult, he built a real estate portfolio of commercial properties across Boston. With the fortune he amassed when he sold all the buildings except for 6 Beacon St., he gave back to the city he loved.
“He made a lot of money, but he really grew up a working-class kid in Boston,” said Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. Vasil added that Mr. Miller liked to stay “under the radar,” despite his wealth and generosity.
“He did a lot, and he gave a lot,” he said. “He did really well for himself, but he wanted to be anonymous. He was the most understated guy in Boston.”
Mr. Miller — a philanthropist who donated to Greater Boston institutions such as Suffolk University, Bentley University, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital — died of heart failure Oct. 7 in his Boylston Street home. He was 93 and was still going to his office as recently as July.
His business, Nathan R. Miller Properties, owned and managed buildings including One State Street, 44 School St., and 18 Tremont St., and Mr. Miller was known for preserving the historic character of older buildings he converted into office space.
Born in 1919, Nathan R. Miller grew up on Myrtle Street. Like many boys in his neighborhood, he spent time at the Burroughs Newsboys Foundation at 10 Somerset St., where children who delivered newspapers or practiced other trades were welcomed two days and two evenings a week for recreational activities, plus a free movie every Friday night.
In 2005, he gave Suffolk University $2 million to buy the Burroughs site and convert it into a residence hall. Today the 19-story Nathan R. Miller Residence Hall is home to 345 students. His gift also pays full tuition for 11 Boston public school graduates each year.
“Many of those students have been proud to call our campus’s Nathan R. Miller Residence home,” James McCarthy, Suffolk University’s president, said in a statement. “Nathan Miller cared deeply about education and building bright futures.’’
After graduating from English High School of Boston, Mr. Miller received an accounting degree in 1939 from what is now Bentley University. Years later, he donated funds so his alma mater could build a residence hall and a career center.
Mr. Miller married Lillian Litvack in 1941. They met when a friend brought him to a party she was hosting. She died in 2012.
In 1943, Mr. Miller enlisted in the US Army. After World War II, he returned to Boston and remained in the Army Reserve for about a decade, said his daughter, Barbara Sidel of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
He founded a small accounting firm at 6 Beacon St., which he transformed into a real estate business. He bought the building, his first commercial property. It is still home to his business today.
“He always viewed Beacon Hill as indestructible,” said Vasil, who met Mr. Miller when he rented space in one of his buildings. “He’d say, ‘It’s on a hill; it will never flood.’ And he said it would always be in demand, because there would always be clientele clamoring for space near the government entities.”
Over lunches, Vasil said, “I learned life lessons from him, about the city, about politics. He loved to talk face to face. He did business the old-fashioned way.”
Mr. Miller, Vasil said, was always concerned about “how people were going to make ends meet.”
“With all the money he had, he’d still say: ‘Have you seen the price of grapefruit? Look at the price of gas, isn’t it terrible?’ Usually people like him get to the point where they’re oblivious about all that,” Vasil said.
Early in his career, Mr. Miller bought rooming houses and apartment houses. His daughter recalled accompanying him on rent-collecting rounds on Saturday mornings.
“He always got up early in the mornings to make breakfast for me,” she said. “He worked so hard during the week that whenever he had time to spend with me, he did.”
Mr. Miller’s family said he believed in giving back to the city where he had become successful. A room at the BSO, where he served on the board, is named for him. He funded an intensive-care unit and lobby at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which bear his name.
He served as chairman of the board of Agassiz Village in Poland, Maine, a camp he attended as a child that was affiliated with the Burroughs Newsboys Foundation. He funded a lodge for camp staff.
He and his family had homes in Harwich and in Palm Beach, Fla., where he contributed to many area organizations, such as Good Samaritan Medical Center and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, both in West Palm Beach.
Bentley and Suffolk each awarded an honorary degree to Mr. Miller. During a ceremony to commemorate the Suffolk residence hall opening in 2005, he spoke about the location’s significance to him and praised the school for preserving its buildings.
“I am told that I am successful,” he said. “I’m not sure I know what that means, because life’s success is not measured by dollars alone. If success is having a loving and supporting wife for more than 60 years, a marvelous daughter, granddaughters, and great-grandchildren, then I am truly successful. If it is having the opportunity to give to others and be part of the wonderful community that we live in, then I am successful.”
Angie O’Keefe, a property administrator who had worked with Mr. Miller since 2002, described him as “extremely business-minded, but very kind.”
“When he was working, business was business,” she said. “But you could also see his other side, a light-hearted, fun side. He was very kind and very fair, a real self-made man.”
A service has been held for Mr. Miller, who in addition to his daughter, leaves two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren.
Most mornings, O’Keefe said, Mr. Miller was at the office by 5 a.m. “The joke was that the superintendent would walk up the street from the train station and he could see the light on in Mr. Miller’s office,” she said, adding that “he loved Boston until the very end. He would just look out the window and say, ‘What a beautiful city. There is no place I would rather be.’”
Kathleen McKenna can be reached at kmck66@ comcast.net.