Mark Comfort remembers George Miller as he accepts award

Mark Comfort (right) and Walter McClure remember their friend, the late George Miller with an honorary empty chair during the World Dairy Expo Banquet of the Stars last month, where Comfort was recognized as 2022 International Person of the Year.

Thankful for the impact of a positive mentor and friend

Sometimes, the people we surround ourselves with, challenge us to be our best. In this season of thanksgiving, a positive encourager is a treasure to remember with gratitude.

MADISON, Wis. — “Who could know that with one phone call to Select Sires 40 years ago would begin a lifelong connection to a great man — George Miller — who invested in me for four decades,” said Mark Comfort of Ontario Canada, as he accepted the 2022 World Dairy Expo International Person of the Year Award last month. 

Miller nominated Comfort for the honor, and while Miller did not live to see the result of that nomination, his spirit was present with the designated empty chair at one of Comfort’s guest tables during the WDE Dinner with the Stars.

With that phone call began the mentorship that grew to longstanding friendship. Miller stood by Comfort, offered advice and cheered him on as a pioneer in the 1980s building his former Transfer Genetics company fulfilling the dream of “allowing great sires to go everywhere,” and later as Comfort launched new products and built teams and relationships with global impact — a prime example being Udder Comfort, the gold-standard in preventive udder care with sales in more than 30 countries on virtually every continent.

“Humble, forward-looking, one who sees the niche that will benefit dairy producers and grows the opportunity to international scope and industry-wide impact,” is how Miller described Comfort in the award nomination packet, as a man “fueled by a competitive drive, spirit of generosity and culture of excellence defining over four decades in dairy.” 

Miller wrote of their association in those early years when Comfort’s work resulted in first-of-a-kind crossborder relationships that encompassed training farmers to breed their own cows and overcoming legal challenges to bring frozen semen of top U.S. sires, some with Canadian genetics in their own history, north to the great cow families of Canadian Holstein breeders — producing impacts that continue today.

Comfort thanked Miller posthumously for his support and positive influence on his life and introduced a few of Miller’s friends attending as his guests.

He noted Dieter Krieg, publisher of Farmshine, which he said was Miller’s favorite dairy newspaper. He noted Dave Eastman, founder of Genervations, another fresh-out-of-college mentee of Miller and of Comfort.

He especially noted Walter McClure, who made the trip from Rocky Mount, Virginia to Madison, Wisconsin for the banquet. Miller and McClure were classmates in dairy science at Virginia Tech. They shared many decades of friendship and a special connection to the Bull of the Century — Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation.

Comfort recounted one of Miller’s favorite stories, that if not for McClure, Elevation may not have become what he will always be to the Holstein breed. It was McClure who assembled the Virginia Animal Breeders sire selection committee after the Holstein picnic in 1966 to go see the young bull bred by Ron Hope. Miller had suggested his cousin use Tidy Burke Elevation on Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve, an exceptional dam with the Rag Apple foundation the Hopes had been developing in their small Round Oak Farms herd in Purcellville, Virginia.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In Miller’s waning months of life, Comfort spoke with him frequently. Just two months before Miller died last February at age 94, Comfort was invited to do an interview with Jan Bierma, editor-in-chief of Holstein International magazine. 

“I called George, and I asked him to join us,” Comfort told banquet attendees. “I’m so thankful I did because in that 45-minute conference call, Jan and I learned more of the rich history and wonderful people that George had experienced through all his years.

“Jan commented on the clarity of George’s details, his youthfulness… ‘You are amazing,’ Jan said to George that day,” Comfort recalled. 

After the festivities, Comfort recalled a visit with Miller 30 years ago to legendary influencer Roy Ormiston (Roybrook). “One said to the other: ‘Do you ever see a limit to production?’ Both agreed it is limitless. Back then, it was unusual to see a two-year-old with 100 pounds of production. Today, we are so far beyond that. There are always other frontiers. We’ve seen it in the Reds, and we’ll see it in the polled and the A2. In genetics, there is always a path, and the sky is the limit, as long as we take care of the cow and the cow comfort.” 

Of legacies, Comfort said he only hoped he could be that positive and encouraging person to others that Miller was to him.

Miller would be the first to say he is, writing that, “Mark’s passion for progress brought contributions and achievements that also boost the accomplishments of others.”

“George was the most positive person I’ve been blessed to know. He encouraged everyone to do their best,” said Comfort. “Even days before his passing, he would tell me: ‘Mark, you’re young. Keep going.’ He also told me he was excited to meet the other side. His faith in God defined him. Thank you, my friend George, and thank you Lord for bringing us together, for making this award possible, and to everyone for sharing this awesome night.” 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Nov. 11, 2022

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