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Lee Thomas “Tom” Mills, 92, was born on September 8, 1930, in Pineville, Kentucky, to Ross C. and Necie Viola Mills. He passed away on September 5, 2023. Tom is reunited in heaven with his high school sweetheart, beloved wife and soulmate of 66 years, Betty Lee Howard Mills. He was also preceded in death by his parents, four brothers (Paul, Ross, Bob, and Stacy Mills) and his sister (Ruth Mills Azbill). He is survived by his four children: Thomas Alan Mills; Randy (Emily) Mills; Jennifer Mills Andes (Rusty); and David (Mendy) Mills. He is also survived by eleven grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, two brothers, Ralph and Bill Mills, and a host of loving nieces and nephews.
Tom received his first experience with athletics while playing for Pineville High School under the direction of Coach Lloyd Patterson. A terrific athlete, he played football and basketball, was awarded the coveted Junior Athletic Cup and selected as football team captain. Tom served his country in the U.S. Navy for four years, followed by his enrollment at Eastern Kentucky University where he earned degrees in History and Physical Education as well as Masters and Rank I degrees, and an advanced degree in School Administration. He was selected as a member in the inaugural class of EKU’s 100 Most Outstanding Alumni in 1974. He began his career in education as a teacher and two years undefeated, championship football coach at Perryville High School. He was later inducted into the Boyle County High School Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He served principalships at Stanford, Harlan and Frankfort High Schools. After a four-year stint as superintendent of the Frankfort City Schools, he was chosen as Assistant Commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association in 1972. He was appointed as the KHSAA’s third Commissioner in 1975 and remained in that position until his retirement in 1991. During his 16-year tenure as KHSAA Commissioner, the state of Kentucky developed one of the most revered high school athletics programs in America. Under his guidance, the sports of girls’ basketball, volleyball, and fast-pitch softball, as well as boys’ and girls’ soccer were implemented as KHSAA-sanctioned activities. He envisioned and initiated catastrophic insurance coverage for all high school athletes, cheerleaders and band members. Target, a drug awareness program, was established in grades 5-12. Along with Governor Martha Layne Collins, he was instrumental in the founding of the Bluegrass State Games. In 1988, his dream became a reality when the Dawahare’s KHSAA Hall of Fame and Museum was founded. He developed the KHSAA Sweet Sixteen Academic Scholarship awards and conceptualized and oversaw the construction of splendid new KHSAA offices. He accepted his place in the prestigious Dawahare’s KHSAA Hall of Fame in 1992.
Tom and wife Betty never forgot their roots in Pineville. They maintained a lifelong love of and support for their hometown. Tom served on the Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival Board of Directors for over forty years, including roles as President, Grand Marshal and as chair of the KMLF Board of Directors Nominating Committee, a position he held for over twenty years. He was inducted into the KMLF Hall of Fame in 1994. Forever a Pineville Mountain Lion at heart, he was inducted into the Pineville Schools Hall of Fame in 2013.
Above all, was his commitment to his Christian faith and to his family. His exemplary role model lives through his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The grandchildren adored him; he remains unmatched as the best bed-time storyteller of all-time. Indeed, his most cherished titles were those of Dad and Grandpa. Whether performing magic tricks for the children or showering special attention on the babies, he truly valued every second of family time. In his later years, he received joy from drives through horse country, especially from visits to his precious Faybon Farm to see the thoroughbreds run.
Taken together, his accomplishments represent the vision of a special kid off Breastwork Hill in Pineville, Kentucky, who saw what needed to be done and then went out and made it happen. His impact on the lives of countless student athletes continues beyond what anyone could have imagined. Tom’s sense of fair play, his conscientious interpretation of the rules, administrative ability and vision for the future, leave a positive mark on every playing field and court throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky that continues to ripple to this very day.
The family wishes to express its gratitude to committed caregivers Edith and Dee and also express appreciation to Bob for his immaculate care of Faybon Farm.
Visitation for Tom will be Sunday, September 10th from 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm at Milward – Broadway located at 159 N Broadway. Service will begin at 4:00 pm on Sunday. Interment will be in Evergreen Memory Gardens the following day.
Donations to the Tom and Betty Howard Mills Scholarship Fund, awarded to graduates of Pineville High School, may be mailed to: Tom and Betty Howard Mills Scholarship Fund; 319 Clay Avenue; Lexington, KY 40502.