Jeffery McMillan briefly relished the life of a local celebrity, whether it was modeling for Target or making shots on a school’s basketball court.
Standing 6 feet 2 and sporting a magnetic smile, McMillan gained notice both on and off the court. But it was his uncommon ways of officiating at games across the state for 25 years that made him popular.
The mild-mannered referee made tough calls even when dissenting spectators roared in the background. He pulled to the side players who violated rules and taught them the proper way to play the game.
McMillan, a mentor and a parent figure to many young people in Minnesota, died July 24 at his Brooklyn Park home after a sudden seizure, his longtime partner Linda Bryant said. He was 60.
“He was a great stepdad to my daughter and a good grandfather,” Bryant said. “He was very kind, and in our 20 years together I have never seen him angry or raise his voice.”
McMillan was born in Birmingham, Ala., and moved to Minneapolis with his mother in 1973 from Gary, Ind. He graduated in 1977 from Minneapolis West High School, where he was a star basketball player and team captain. After completing high school, he enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, where he earned an associate degree in business administration.
His passion for sports led him to take courses in sports medicine at the University of Minnesota, which he attended briefly. Meanwhile, he continued to officiate at countless basketball, football, baseball and softball games around the state.
Terrence Holden, who worked alongside McMillan for two decades refereeing youth games, said McMillan took pride in helping young men and women become skilled athletes. Holden said McMillan traveled around the state officiating high school leagues and other tournaments for the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services and the YWCA, and was also tapped to officiate games for the Minneapolis Park Board and the Amateur Athletic Union.
“This was a job that not many people wanted to do,” Holden said. “Being a referee was one of his ways of giving back to the community.”
McMillan went back to school to get a trades degree from Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. In 2010, he started working with Marsden Building Maintenance as a janitor and was elected to be a union steward.
Ibrahim Nur, an employee of Local 26 of the Service Employees International Union, knew McMillan for six years. McMillan, he said, was a fierce labor representative who solved problems and fought for the interests of his fellow co-workers.
“He was an activist,” he said. “He was the ears and eyes of the union. He was fair and treated people with respect.”
For a decade, McMillan was also a manager at his uncle’s Little Dowling restaurant in south Minneapolis. Harold McMillan said his nephew was just outgoing enough to draw in people.
“Jeff had a local fame, and he was engaged in a lot of stuff,” Harold McMillan said. “He was just a local guy doing good.”
In 2017, after suffering a sudden stroke, McMillan left his Marsden job. Despite some frailty, he continued to referee occasionally. When he wasn’t reffing, he was at home entertaining family, cooking or grilling. He also loved watching football and basketball games and fishing in Lake Minnetonka.
“He really liked entertaining people and he was a joy to be around,” said his cousin Victor McMillan.
In addition to Bryant, he is survived by a stepdaughter, Theressa Ruiz, and a step-granddaughter.
Services have been held.