Obituary: James Miles, Control Data's marketing whiz

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 4, 2012 - 12:26 AM

"He never took ownership for anything he did, but everybody knows there would be no Children's Hospital in Minneapolis if he hadn't lent his mind to the situation."

James G. Miles

The passion to build a better world led James Miles into science, business, politics and philanthropy. Some results of his efforts can still be seen in the Twin Cities today.

As one of the founders of Control Data Corp., Miles helped make Minnesota a computer industry pioneer. As the principal fundraiser for Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, he helped establish what is now one of the country's premier pediatric health care facilities.

And as a landowner who donated his farm for public use, he helped create the 475-acre Vermillion River Aquatic and Wildlife Management Area.

Miles, who had been disabled since a stroke 10 years ago, died April 23 at his home in Deephaven. He was 90.

Miles grew up in Lincoln, Neb., earning a degree in electrical engineering and teaching physics at the University of Nebraska.

His move to the Twin Cities coincided with World War II. He worked at Sperry Corp. but later joined Engineering Research Associates (ERA), a top-secret U.S. Navy outfit, working in St. Paul cracking German codes. Miles was part of a small group, including William Norris, that left ERA to form Control Data Corp. in 1957.

Seymour Cray was the electronic genius who developed Control Data's powerful computers, but Miles was the marketing expert who helped customers around the world understand the new information technology, said Miles' son Steven.

Miles' marketing and engineering expertise came in handy when efforts to build Children's Hospital were underway, according to Dr. Arnold Anderson, who worked with Miles to raise funds for the facility.

Anderson said Miles guided the project through opposition in the local medical establishment. When individual donors failed to step forward, Miles tapped his local underwriting and venture-capital contacts to secure funding, Anderson said.

"He never took ownership for anything he did, but everybody knows there would be no Children's Hospital in Minneapolis if he hadn't lent his mind to the situation," Anderson said.

As an engineer, Miles ensured that the hospital would be designed so it could be expanded and renovated -- a vision which has since been realized.

In 1974, he had a short-lived campaign as an independent candidate for governor, walking the entire state talking to people about their concerns.

"My dad was an incurable romantic," Steven Miles said. "He had decided that he had a vision that was different and inherently bipartisan so that it would produce real political progress."

In addition to his son Steven, Miles is survived by his wife, Laura; another son, Henry; a daughter, Catherine Zimba; a sister, Mary Henderson, and several grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Services have been held.

Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723

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